Dental Hygiene Bachelor’s is Official

K. Patricia Bouweraerts

Photo of dental hygienist and patient

The very first graduates of the Truckee Meadows Community College Bachelor of Science, Dental Hygiene degree will be able to walk across the stage in 2021, made possible now that the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Board of Regents has approved the program to begin in Fall Semester 2019.

In addition, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) has reviewed the new degree and approves the program to be included under TMCC's accreditation.

“We’ve been actively working on developing the degree for a minimum of two years, getting courses approved through the Curriculum Review Committee and other necessary processes,” said Lori McDonald, Director of Dental Hygiene.

She said that some of the advantages of this career include a strong wage with benefits.

“There is flexibility—you can work one to six days a week in different types of settings—for a dentist in private practice, or split your week between private practice and community health clinics,” she said. “There are a lot of options in this career.”

TMCC currently offers two Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees. The new Bachelor of Science, Dental Hygiene (BSDH) will be the first Bachelor of Science (BS) pathway. BSDH grads will be able to go on for a post graduate degree in a variety of disciplines at colleges and universities, or immediately enter the workforce with their four-year degree.

Inter-Professional Study

One notable, unique facet of the new TMCC BSDH program is an innovative inter-professional segment.

There is a growing movement in the allied health fields to work in partnership, joining forces for enhanced patient care, because of the link between oral disease and other illnesses that affect the entire body, known as the oral-systemic link. For example, a connection has been found between gum disease and systemic conditions such as heart disease and some types of diabetes.

“The inter-professional experience is exciting, because it’s the future for allied health professions to work together in inter-disciplinary teams between nurses, hygienists, nutritionists, mental health professionals and other health care providers—the different specialties will not be in their own ‘silos’ any more, but help improve patient care collaboratively,” McDonald said.

The ratio of TMCC faculty members to students in the clinical setting is a remarkable one to five.

“They are so-well prepared, graduates of TMCC’s Associate of Science, Dental Hygiene program typically pass the national written and clinical examination on their first attempt,” she said.

Growing Need for Hygienists

The need for licensed dental hygienists is increasing.

“The occupational growth rate for licensed hygienists is high, at about 19 percent, and we need more professionals out there because people are living longer, and are educated about the importance of keeping their teeth," McDonald said. "They have these wonderfully trained hygienists and they can be relieved of pain, get excellent care and feel great about smiling again. The new degree is meeting workforce needs.”

Graduates continue to be sought out by dental practices and clinics in Nevada.

“Every day I get emails from dentists needing hygienists—from Reno, the Tahoe area, Carson City, Gardnerville—from all over the region,” she said. “The bachelor’s program has received great support from the College and our Advisory Board."

Benefits of a BSDH

The national written and clinical examination is the same for those with either associate or bachelor’s degrees. Dental Hygiene graduates must complete the written Dental Hygiene National Board Examination and a clinical assessment conducted by a state or regional board to be licensed to practice. Pay rates in clinical practice are typically close to the same for licensed hygienists whether they hold an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s grads are eligible to work in a wider variety of occupational settings.

“The bachelor’s degree opens up more job options for graduates, workwise, including the ability to teach, apply for state jobs, work for a dental product corporation as a representative, research analyst, educator, or other choices,” McDonald said.

BSDH degree graduates will complete 120 credits, compared to the 109 credits for ASDH grads. Once accepted into the bachelor’s program, the time to completion is four semesters, much like the current ASDH degree.

Prerequisites and Upper Division Courses

“Two additional prerequisite courses are required to apply to the BSDH program; Statistics 152 and Nutrition 223,” McDonald said. “Statistics prepares students for the research component within the dental hygiene curriculum. Research is required for the higher-level BSDH degree.”

Once accepted into the BSDH program, the dental hygiene emphasis courses are in-person, face-to-face instruction. Prerequisites to the program, such as communications, and nutrition may be taken online, when they are offered as web-based classes. While taking prerequisite courses, students declare a Community Health Science (CHS) track major. Once they are accepted into the BSDH program, they are dental hygiene majors and take their program emphasis coursework.

Students may apply for the program once they have 80 points, with the point scale defined on the Dental Hygiene site. The application opens each year in the middle of January, and students have about one month to submit their forms. The 14 students with the most points, and two alternates are selected for entry into the program emphasis.

McDonald and academic advisors meet with students who have applied, and are yet to be accepted. They make recommendations for coursework that will boost points during the next application cycle. Students who re-apply are granted two extra points for their next submission.

The concluding class of the Associate of Science, Dental Hygiene (ASDH) program will complete their degree in 2020. The ASDH will then be phased out, with the bachelor’s curriculum taking its place.

For more information about the new Bachelor of Science, Dental Hygiene, please contact the TMCC Dental Hygiene Department at 775-673-8293.