Pierce College Dental Hygiene students

Is Dental Hygiene for Me?

Make an Informed Decision

If you are considering studying dental hygiene, we encourage you to learn as much as possible about the profession. In addition to reviewing the information provided here, we recommend that you observe and speak with a dental hygiene advisor and a Registered (Licensed) Dental Hygienist (RDH). Ask questions about the benefits of the profession, why they chose this career, skills needed for success, work ethic, etc.

We also offer free informational sessions twice a year in summer and fall quarters. The next sessions are on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, May 29, 2018, 4:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 24, 2018, 3 p.m.

Location for both sessions:

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom
Cascade Building, Level Three, Room 332
9401 Farwest Dr. SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

What Is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a licensed health professional dedicated to the prevention and treatment of oral diseases who has completed a professional course of study and passed all local, state, and national examinations.

In the State of Washington, Registered Dental Hygienists are oral health practitioners, educators, researchers, etc. who perform all aspects of treating and preventing gingival and periodontal diseases (gum disease), including the administration of local anesthesia and nitrous oxide sedation. Additionally, dental hygienists in Washington State have an expanded practice act allowing them to perform select restorative procedures — the placing and finishing of amalgam and composite fillings. The Program prepares you for the full scope of dental hygiene practice in WA State. Please refer to the Practice Act, Chapter 18.29 RCW.

Characteristics of a Good Dental Hygienist

  • Behaves ethically, with integrity, intellectual ability, physical competency, and personal responsibility.
  • Takes responsibility for one's own learning and is accountable for one's own actions.
  • Communicates effectively (reading, writing and verbally/non-verbally).
  • Enjoys and demonstrates success in various fine motor skills.
  • Demonstrates sufficient emotional, mental, and physical stamina to withstand the stresses and uncertainties that characterize the practice of dental hygiene.
  • Is inquisitive/intrigued about the oral environment (mouth, teeth, tissue, and its relationship to the whole body).
  • Enjoys interacting with people and shows compassion and caring, placing the patient's welfare first.
  • Can disregard or at least tolerate oral mouth odors and blood, food debris, etc., in the mouth.
  • Respects one’s self and others' views and rights.
  • Is organized and detailed.

Dental hygienists are responsible, by law WAC 246-815-160, to the people of the State of Washington, for specific standards of dental hygiene conduct.

Criminal Background Policy (At Time of Application)

All program applicants must submit to a criminal background check at the time of application. Applicants with felony convictions are not eligible to participate in the Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene (BASDH) program courses at Pierce College. Applicants with felony convictions will have their application invalidated. See the Washington Criminal Code for a list of crimes considered felonies.

Should the college/program deem you a valid applicant, despite non-felony convictions, and offer you an admission into the BASDH program, it is the your FULL responsibility to determine your eligibility for dental hygiene licensure through the Department of Licensing before commencing a course of study in Dental Hygiene, and if able, clear a criminal history. Please contact the Washington State Department of Health for further information at (360) 236-4700.

Department of Licensing Contact Information

Identification of Positive Criminal History—Washington State Criminal History Repository Department of Health—Licensing Application. DOH conducts criminal background check on every applicant for licensure (DH Program, dentistry, etc.)

  • Applicants must answer the DOH Information Data Sheet with integrity and honesty. Future licensure is at great risk if false information is submitted.
  • With positive criminal history, the applicant must include all reports and court documents along with detailed and complete explanations, with the application for Washington State Licensure.
  • Positive criminal history cases are submitted to a DOH review panel, where decisions regarding licensure (and possible stipulations) are determined.
  • Each case identifying positive criminal history is managed as an individual case. License stipulations may be obligatory if patient harm is potential.
  • Applicants with positive criminal history should attempt to get the violation records expunged (after a specified time, some records may be expunged).

Occupational Hazards

Dental hygienists are exposed to several occupational hazards, including but not limited to: exposure to infectious diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis, exposure to hazardous chemicals or substances, accidental injury, neuromuscular problems, exposure to blood borne pathogens, exposure to radiation, and allergic reactions to latex, anesthetic agents, or other chemical agents. Students enrolled in the dental hygiene program are provided with in-depth instructions on OSHA and WISHA safety and infection control policies employed in the dental hygiene program and are required to sign acknowledgement and understanding agreements related to occupation hazards including a “Human Subject Consent, an “Oath of Confidentiality”, and the general “Program Agreement”.

Latex Allergies

Over the past few years, the incidence of latex allergy has increased steadily. Latex is an integral part of dentistry; although latex free gloves are used in clinic, rubber dams, suction tubes, etc. may contain latex. Individuals with a history of some prior allergic condition—such as hay fever, environmental allergies, and drug allergies—may be at risk for latex hypersensitivity. Individuals with a documented latex allergy must submit clearance from a physician prior to participation in pre-clinical or clinical activities.

Essential Functions

See the Dental Accreditation web page for the essential functions for admission provision and graduation from the BASDH Program at Pierce College.

Health Examinations, Vaccinations/Immunizations, and Health Tests if Accepted

The below health examinations, vaccinations and health tests are required for entry into the BASDH program, unless otherwise noted below as “optional”.

Medical Examination

Evaluating general and musculoskeletal health to include previous and current injuries and conditions to hands and arms (e.g., carpal tunnel, tendonitis, fractures, etc.), shoulders, neck and back (including muscles, tendons, bones, and/or nerves).

In addition, this physical examination must include laboratory tests and update of immunizations as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your health care provider. Guidelines for immunizations, set by the CDC, are provided at the end of this section. You will be required to provide a copy of your immunization record.

PPD/Mantoux Screening Test for Mycobacterium Tuberculosis

Required at the time of acceptance into the program and annually thereafter. This is not an immunization, but a test of exposure to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Documentation of a prior positive TB skin test and negative chest x-ray may substitute for TB testing.

Vision/Eye Examination That Includes an Evaluation of Depth Perception

Students will be required to wear safety glasses (glasses with side shields) during the performance of all lab and clinical activities/procedures. Students who wear prescription glasses should consult with the clinical coordinator for acceptable eyewear options as some frame designs create difficulty in adding side shields to the frame.

Dental Examination

In winter 1 quarter of the program, you will have a Digital, Full Survey of Oral Radiographs completed.

Please inform your dentist of this radiographic film series when you see him/her for your dental examination and treatment.  

Your dental treatment should include a preventive dental hygiene prophylaxis and most, if not all, restorative care. The dental hygiene department requires students to meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination guidelines to attend our dental hygiene program.

For complete information regarding vaccinations for healthcare employees, please see the CDC website.


  • Hepatitis B: Give three-dose series (first dose now, second in one month, third approximately 5 months after second dose). Give IM. Obtain anti-HBs serologic testing 1-2 months after third dose.
  • Tuberculin Testing: IGRA blood test (lab report required) or quantiFERON Gold.
  • MMR: For healthcare personnel (HCP) born in 1957 or later without serologic evidence of immunity or prior vaccination, give two doses of MMR, 4 weeks apart. For HCP born prior to 1957, see below. Give SC.
  • Varicella (Chickenpox): For HCP who have no serologic proof of immunity, prior vaccination, or history of varicella disease, give two doses of varicella vaccine, 4 weeks apart. Give SC.
  • Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis: Give all HCP a Td booster dose every 10 years, following the completion of the primary three-dose series. Give a one-time dose of Tdap to all HCP younger than age 65 years with direct patient contact. Give IM.
  • Meningococcal: Give one dose to microbiologists who are routinely exposed to isolates of N. meningitis.
  • Hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio vaccines are not routinely recommended for HCP who may have on-the-job exposure to fecal material.
  • Influenza: Give one dose of TIV or LAIV annually. Give TIV intramuscularly or LAIV intra-nasally.