Dental Hygiene Schools and Education Programs in Washington

The field of dental hygiene in Washington offers growing career options in a state that provides the third-highest average annual salary in the nation. Washington also offers some of the most advanced education opportunities for dental hygienists of any state in the country. Dental hygienists are licensed by the state’s Board of Health in conjunction with the Dental Hygiene Credentialing department.

To earn a dental hygienist license in Washington you will need to navigate the following steps:

Graduate from an Approved Dental Hygienist Education Program
Pass the Dental Hygiene National Board Exam (NBDHE)
Pass an Approved Dental Hygienist Clinical Examination
Complete Remaining Requirements for a Washington License
Apply for a Washington State Dental Hygienist License
Maintain Your Washington Dental Hygienist License



Step 1. Graduate from an Approved Dental Hygienist Education Program

The first and foundational step you need to complete is to graduate from a dental hygiene education program that is approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), an affiliate of the American Dental Association (ADA).

There are at least 10 of these dental hygiene schools in Washington, located in the cities of:

  • Bellingham
  • Kirkland
  • Lakewood
  • Pasco
  • Seattle
  • Shoreline
  • Spokane
  • Vancouver
  • Yakima

In the entire nation only Washington and one other state offer such wide range of the following CODA-accredited degree programs for prospective dental hygienists:

  • Associate’s of Science (AS) Degree in Dental Hygiene
  • Bachelor’s of Science (BS) Degree in Dental Hygiene
  • Master’s of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene (MS in Oral Biology)
  • Doctoral Degree in Dental Hygiene (PhD in Oral Biology)

As you start out as a new dental hygienist student you can expect a typical curriculum of study that will start with prerequisites and move on to more dental hygiene-specific courses such as the following:

  • Nutrition
  • Basic biology and chemistry
  • Psychology and sociology
  • Microbiology
  • Intermediate mathematics
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Head, neck, and dental anatomy
  • Pharmacology for the dental hygienist
  • Radiography
  • Histology and embryology
  • Pain control, local anesthetic, and the administration of nitrous oxide
  • Periodontology
  • Ethics and jurisprudence
  • Community dental health
  • Restorative functions
  • Dental hygienist clinical

Option for Expanded Functions

Many CODA-approved dental hygiene education programs in Washington will include coursework that will make you eligible for optional expanded functions. The dental hygienist job description in Washington allows for expanded functions in three fields, provided you complete coursework for each of these areas that includes a curriculum which evaluates didactic and clinical competency:

  • Administration of local anesthetic
  • Administration of nitrous oxide-oxygen analgesia
  • Restorative dentistry in two areas, each requiring a separate course of study:
    • Placement of restorations into cavities
    • Carving, contouring, and adjusting occlusions and contacts of restorations

If your dental hygiene education program did not include one of these courses and you would like to earn permission in the given area, you can find a list of approved supplemental courses to take on page 15 of the license application packet.



Step 2. Pass the Dental Hygiene National Board Exam (NBDHE)

The National Board Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE) is administered by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). You will become eligible to take this exam as you near the completion of your CODA-accredited dental hygiene program. The NBDHE’s content is comprised of 350 multiple-choice questions divided into two segments:

First Segment – comprised of 200 questions covering the theory of:

  • Scientific basis of dental hygiene
  • Research principles and community health
  • Clinical dental hygiene services

Second Segment – comprised of 150 questions that are specific to 12-15 hypothetical patient scenarios involving:

  • Assessment of patient dental hygiene needs
  • Professional responsibility
  • Performance of periodontal procedures
  • Exposure and interpretation of radiographs
  • Use of preventative materials
  • Dental hygiene management
  • Supportive dental hygiene services



Step 3. Pass an Approved Dental Hygienist Clinical Examination

As an additional part of the testing to become a dental hygienist in Washington you will need to complete one of the clinical examinations sponsored by any of the following agencies:

A typical clinical exam will include an evaluation of your performance in a clinical setting of the following dental hygienist duties:

  • Periodontal evaluation and cleaning
  • Exposure of radiographs
  • Removal of calculus, plaque, and stains
  • Measurement of pockets

Depending on your CODA-accredited dental hygienist education program, you may also be required to take an exam offered by one of these agencies to complete the requirements for permission to perform expanded functions. You will be informed of this requirement by your dental hygienist education program, and may possibly need to take:

  • WREB’s Anesthesia Exam
  • WREB’s Restorative Exam



Step 4. Complete Remaining Requirements for a Washington License

Before you will be eligible for a dental hygienist license you must also complete the following remaining requirements:

BLS Requirement

Basic Life Support (BLS) for Healthcare Providers certification through the American Heart Association.

AIDS Training Requirement

For this requirement you will need to complete at least seven hours of AIDS training that may include:

  • Formal training
  • Self-study
  • Formal courses
  • Direct patient care

This training can cover subjects such as:

  • Epidemiology
  • Counseling and testing
  • Legal and ethical issues
  • Clinical treatment and manifestations
  • Infection control
  • Psycho-social issues

Washington State Dental Hygiene Drug and Law Exam (WSJ)

This exam covers the rules and laws that relate to the practice of dental hygiene and dentistry in general. You will specifically tested over the following:

This test is offered through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and you must obtain a passing score of at least 90 percent. Registration information for this exam is contained in the application packet on pages 25-32.



Step 5. Apply for a Washington State Dental Hygienist License

Once you have achieved all the required qualifications you can make an application for licensure through the Washington State Department of Health. This agency will work in conjunction with the state’s Dental Hygiene Credentialing department, with this latter agency being responsible for processing third-party verification documents such as your official transcripts and testing scores. Detailed submission information is included in the application packet.

A complete application for licensure must include the following:

  • Application Packet
  • Official transcripts from your dental hygienist education program, sent by your school directly to the Dental Hygienist Credentialing department
  • Verification that you have passed the required NBDHE and clinical exams
  • Full professional résumé
  • Any out-of-state dental hygienists licenses or credentials
  • Attestation that you have completed the required AIDS training
  • Confirmation that you have passed the Washington State Dental Hygiene Drug and Law Exam, sent directly to the Dental Hygiene Credentialing department from the DANB

Out-of-State Experienced Dental Hygienists

As an experienced dental hygienist from another state you may qualify for licensure in Washington. To do this you must have completed the above requirements as well as be currently licensed and practicing in another state. If you choose to pursue licensure via this route you will be subject to the in-state requirements to perform expanded functions.

Initial Limited License

If you are an out-of-state experienced dental hygienist you may also qualify for an Initial Limited License that will allow you to perform expanded functions. This Initial Limited License is valid for 18 months, and to be eligible for this you must:

  • Hold a license in another state that allows for a similar scope of practice as the expanded duties you are seeking in Washington
  • Have worked at least 560 hours as a dental hygienist in the preceding 24 months



Step 6. Maintain Your Washington Dental Hygienist License

You will need to renew your dental hygienist license every year before your birthday. As part of the renewal requirements you must to earn at least 15 hours of continuing education annually. This should be directly related to the services you provide as a dental hygienist. You will also need to maintain your Basic Life Support (BLS) for Healthcare Providers certification through the American Heart Association.

Because of the wide array of educational opportunities for dental hygienists in Washington State, one option for fulfilling the annual continuing education requirements is to take college courses towards a more advanced degree.

More information about continuing education and dental hygienist jobs in Washington can be found with local organizations such as the Washington State Dental Hygienists’ Association (WSDHA).

Renewing an Initial Limited License

To renew this license and convert it to a normal dental hygienist license you must:

  • Verify that you have earned a passing score on an approved clinical examination
  • Verify that you have passed the WREB Anesthesia examination
  • Verify that you have completed appropriate didactic and clinical training in the administration of local anesthetic and nitrous oxide

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