Best Dental Hygiene Schools in California – 2024

Written By: Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH

Dental hygienists in California can work as independent practitioners. While the majority of hygienists in the Golden State are affiliated with a dentistry practice, you’ll also find these health professionals working as solo proprietors in their own clinics, working in clinics owned by hospitals and other health systems, or providing services to housebound patients. In order to qualify as an independent practitioner, a dental hygienist must be licensed and have worked as a hygienist for a minimum of 2,000 hours in the preceding 36 months. If dental hygiene is a professional opportunity that excites you, we’ve listed the best dental hygiene programs in California.


Things to Keep in Mind While Selecting a Dental Hygiene School in the State of CA

Education choices are typically predicated on two considerations: How long do you want to spend in school, and how much do you want to spend? Dental hygiene programs are no exception to this rule. Different dental hygiene programs, though, vary in what subjects and skills they teach. Obviously, you’ll want to pick the dental hygiene school in California that teaches you what you want to know.

All dental hygiene programs cover basic sciences like anatomy, physiology, biology, and pharmacology. Some programs, however, offer specialty courses in subjects like dental materials, dental pharmacology and pain relief. Similarly, while all programs teach basic hygienist skills like removing plaque and tartar from teeth, only a handful may offer skills labs in anesthesia and X-ray procedures. Do your research beforehand, and choose carefully among the dental hygiene schools in the state of CA to find the one that offers what you want.

Dental Hygiene Program Length & Cost in California

There are three educational tracks to becoming a dental hygienist in the Golden State. You can get an associate degree at either a community college or a technical college; you’ll be able to finish your degree in 20 to 30 months, and you’ll spend between $5,310 - $58,970 doing so. An increasing number of four-year colleges and universities are also offering dental hygiene training; if you’re a Cal state resident and you go to a state-funded school, your tuition may be as low as $24,600 while training through a private university may cost you as much as $107,850. Finally, if you’d like to do research or teach other aspiring dental hygienists, you may want to get a master’s degree. A master’s degree will take between one and two years to complete, and you will end up spending between $32,060 and $99,020.

Type of Program Length Cost
Associate Degree20 - 30 Months$5,310 - $58,970
Bachelor's Degree4 - years$24,600 - $107,850
Master's DegreeBetween 1 and 2 years$32,060 - $99,020


(Based on our Ranking Methodology, below are the 15 best dental hygiene programs in California. The list includes both campus-based and online programs.)

1) University of Southern California, Los Angeles

For almost 80 years, the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry has been offering high-quality dental education. It boasts of an acclaimed faculty comprising of experts, authors, and editors who have made a valuable contribution to the field of dental science. Moreover, as a dental hygiene student, being part of a large dental school, you enjoy many opportunities to learn from students and faculty from other dental specialties.

USC is one of the few dental schools in the nation to offer a Bachelor’s and Master’s in dental hygiene.

Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene: With this bachelor’s degree, you will be well-equipped to kickstart your career as an entry-level dental hygienist. You must complete 76 credits in dental hygiene and 12 in general education courses. The well-rounded coursework takes five trimesters to complete and includes extensive clinical training, to help you gain real-world experience.

Master of Science in Dental Hygiene: If you are looking at advancing your dental hygiene education then you can consider this program that can be completed in 16 months of full-time study. If you are working, you can also opt for a part-time schedule. The coursework will help you gain expertise in this dental field through class work, case studies and oral presentations. Upon completion of your training you can also pursue a career in research and education.

2) West Coast University - Orange County, Anaheim

West Coast University provides umpteen learning opportunities to dental hygiene students, thus ensuring professional and personal growth. An advanced simulation lab, an opportunity to serve a diverse population at its free dental clinic and a host of career assistance services prepare students for this challenging yet rewarding allied dental career with much aplomb.

You can opt for this accelerated dental hygiene course in California and finish your bachelor’s in dental Hygiene in just 34 months, sooner than most bachelors programs offered at other colleges. The program incorporates a broad curriculum that includes courses in general education and dental hygiene. While general education courses can be taken online, dental hygiene courses are mostly offered on-campus. By completing the coursework, you will acquire the knowledge and skills to fulfill job duties in a wide array of positions such as a clinician, dental hygiene faculty, researcher, administration and management.

3) University of the Pacific, San Francisco

University of the Pacific’s San Francisco campus provides an enriching learning environment, with its state-of-the-art facility, an array of dental programs, a dental clinic on-campus and a teaching approach that encourages student-faculty and community interaction. Moreover, its accessible location makes it convenient for students to commute without much hassle.

This three-year bachelor’s program at UOP prepares students with a broad curriculum that incorporates components of liberal arts in the first half of the program, and after that moving to the dental hygiene coursework from the second half onwards. This helps students to develop problem-solving skills, constantly adapt to changes in the dental field and be an efficient member of a dental team. As the college is highly selective in its admission policy, it is recommended that you complete your high school with at least a GPA of 2.7 and ensure you take biology, chemistry, and math.

4. San Joaquin Valley College, Ontario & Visalia

For aspiring dental hygiene students in California, San Joaquin Valley College offers two fully equipped campuses, to choose from. Each one comes with its own dental clinic, small sized classrooms and a reputation of excellent licensure exam pass rates.

To become a valuable member of a dental team within a short duration, the college offers an associate degree that can be completed in 16 months. You will learn vital technical skills such as the use of charting software, intra-oral cameras that help show the interior of a patient’s mouth, x-ray techniques, placing of dental and sealants, fluoride and performing advanced scaling and root planning methods by using various instruments. The curriculum also includes extensive clinical sessions each term, starting with 8 hours per week during the first two terms and thereon, 12 to 16 hours per week in term three and four. The program is rigorous in nature, and it is highly recommended that you do not work, while being enrolled.

5. Foothill College, Los Altos Hills

Foothill College has been training dental hygiene students since as long as 1964. It offers two dynamic bachelor’s programs to meet the academic needs of dental hygiene aspirants.

Entry-level Bachelor of Science Degree in Dental Hygiene: This program entails completing general education, science and social science courses in the first two years. After this, you are required to apply to the dental hygiene program, and once accepted you will complete 107 credits in core dental hygiene and upper division general education courses. This will take another two years of study, during which the curriculum includes courses such as dental radiography, oral anatomy, dental materials, periodontics, dental health education, and ethics and law applicable to dental practices.

AS to BS-DH Program: This is a bridge program for those who have already completed an Associate degree in Dental Hygiene and are looking at broadening their knowledge base and career avenues. To graduate you must complete eight courses, and all of them are offered online. This works well for a dental hygienist who is not willing to keep current work commitments on hold while earning his bachelor’s.

6) Concorde Career College, San Bernardino, Garden Grove & San Diego

Concorde Career College offers the dental hygiene program at three campus locations in the state that are well-equipped with labs, resource centers, and a dental clinic.

To become a dental hygienist in CA you can consider this 111.5 credit hour associate program offered by the college. This 17-month long training divided into nine terms prepares you with workplace-ready skills and knowledge in areas such as extraoral and intraoral exams, periodontal and dental exams, patient assessment and checking vital signs. The curriculum also incorporates practical training, mainly at the college’s dental clinic where students provide supervised patient care to a diverse patient population.

7) Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill

Nurturing the career aspirations of dental hygiene students, Diablo Valley College is known for its affordable and employment-ready education. Emphasizing on experiential learning, students are provided with externship opportunities at the Native American Health Clinic and La Clinica, two prominent community health centers in the region.

This dental hygiene school in California offers an associate degree that can be completed in two years. The full-time program will require you to attend classes during the day. On completion of the coursework, that includes general as well as core courses you will be able to take the National and Regional Dental Hygiene Board exams and work in dental offices, specialty clinics, hospitals, nursing, and public health clinics. The college is highly selective in its admission policy, so ensure you complete the pre-requisite coursework in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, algebra and nutrition with a minimum GPA of 3.0.

For those interested in pursuing this program, the college recommends including algebra, biology, chemistry, and physiology as preferred subjects in high school.

8) Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa

A Santa Rosa Junior College dental hygiene graduate is trained to become an efficient member of a dental team by being a critical thinker, problem solver, and evidence-based decision maker. Since the start of this program in 1999, graduates have excelled in the licensure exam with a 100% pass rate.

This Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene takes five semesters of full-time study to complete. The rigorous coursework grooms you by teaching professional skills and knowledge through classroom lectures, lab session and hands-on practice at the college’s dental clinic and various other community settings. The college advises you to complete the general education and pre-requisite courses before starting with the dental hygiene coursework. This better prepares you for the demanding schedule that you will go through to complete the core coursework.

9) Taft College, Taft

Taft College’s commitment towards training dental hygiene students is apparent from the career preparedness graduates have demonstrated at various positions they are holding in the dental field.

Taft offers a two-year associate in dental hygiene. This four-semester long coursework offers sequential courses that build upon each other. You gain expertise in patient assessment, monitoring the patient and keeping records, evaluating and planning patient dental hygiene plan, dental hygiene intervention, and ethics & laws that are relevant to your dental hygiene practice. By the end of the last semester, you will be prepared to take the national and state level licensure exams and start working in private and community dental clinics. Some Graduates also go one to pursue a career in research and education.

10) Southwestern College, Chula Vista

Southwestern College, with its policy of inclusion and diversity, prepares dental hygiene aspirants to competently serve a diverse patient population. Students achieve their academic goals under the mentorship of an experienced and dedicated faculty.

The dental hygiene program offered by SWC is an associate degree that can be completed in two years. It is offered in fall of each year with the classroom clinical sessions being held at the Higher Education Center at National City. The curriculum being rigorous requires a commitment of 60 to 65 hours per week. Courses are taken in a sequence as each course builds upon the previous one. The 53 credits in the core dental hygiene coursework include subjects such as clinical concepts, dental radiography, oral anatomy and physiology, periodontics, pain control, dental pharmacology, dental materials, community health and ethics and laws relevant to the dental practice. Your clinical training will take place in the dental hygiene clinic at National City, which is a teaching facility facilitating student learning.

11) Carrington College, Sacramento & San Jose

Carrington College has been synonymous with quality healthcare education in the state of California. With its many healthcare programs, dental hygiene being one among them, it is transforming the lives of its students and the community they serve.

This dental hygiene program in CA is an associate that takes two years to complete. The coursework is deigned, to help you gain technical skills required to perform routines tasks such as cleaning and scaling of teeth, removing plaque and stains, applying fluoride and sealants, taking oral x-rays, recording patient data and evaluating and planning an oral hygiene plan for patients. Upon completion of the coursework, you will be able to take up entry-level positions at dental offices, community dental clinics, and public health agencies.

To be eligible for this program you must complete the pre-requisite coursework from an accredited college with a minimum grade of “C” and an overall GPA of at least 2.75.

12) Chabot College, Hayward

Since the start of its dental hygiene program in 1968, Chabot College has trained over 900 graduates who are successfully serving patients across the state and beyond. To help achieve their academic goals, students are provided with a rich learning environment, where they use the college’s learning resources, participate in group discussions, and undergo rigorous lab and clinical training.

The dental hygiene program offered by the college is an associate degree that entails completing 60.5 units in general as well as dental hygiene courses. A minimum of “C” grade is required in all these courses to graduate. This curriculum is reviewed regularly to provide for the most relevant and current education. On completion of the program, you will be able to think critically and use evidence-based knowledge to effectively evaluate and plan the oral hygiene treatment required by the patient.

13) Sacramento City College, Sacramento

Sacramento City College provides for a robust foundation in the field of dental hygiene, with a curriculum and teaching methodology that stays abreast of changing trends in the industry. The dental clinic on its campus facilitates enhanced learning by providing real-world clinical experience to students, all this while serving the local community.

SCC’s dental hygiene program is an associate degree that can be completed in two years. It combines classwork, lab sessions, and clinical experiences to take you through a curriculum that includes 39.5 credits of pre-requisite courses and 45.5 credits of dental hygiene courses. Upon completion of the curriculum, you will be eligible to take the national and state licensing examinations. The college recommends that you include algebra, biology, chemistry and physiology in high school, to be better prepared for this program.

13) Cabrillo College, Aptos

Cabrillo College has been providing quality and affordable dental hygienist training in California since 1967. Its 100% pass rate on the national and state licensure exams speak volumes of the college’s commitment towards a positive academic outcome.

This two-year associate in dental hygiene is a full-time program that starts in the summer semester. A maximum of 22 students are admitted each year and classes run Monday through Friday during the day. The dental hygiene specific coursework of this curriculum takes you through a broad base of topics, including anatomy of the oral cavity, oral health education, knowledge of dental materials, dental radiography, periodontics, dental terminology, law and ethics relevant to the dental field, dental insurance, pain management, and interim therapeutic restorations.

To be eligible for this program, you must have scored a minimum GPA of 2.70 in all pre-requisite science courses and a minimum “C” grade in your general education courses.

15) Fresno City College, Fresno

Fresno City College provides dental hygiene education with a goal to improve the oral health of the community. Students are trained in workplace skills and knowledge through extensive experiential learning sessions.

The full-time, 4-semester dental hygiene associate degree program is offered in a cohort format, meaning you will move through the coursework, together with your peers. To complete the coursework, you must attend classes and practical training on its campus along with clinical rotations at affiliated clinical sites. Oral Biology, oral radiography, oral pathology, local anesthesia, periodontology, pharmacology, dental specialties, nutrition in dentistry are some of the courses you will take. In order to graduate you must complete all courses with a minimum grade “C.”


Dental Hygienist Career Information For California - 2024

How Many Dental Hygienists are Currently Employed in CA?


Where do Dental Hygienists Work in California?

Though California is one of the states in which dental hygienists have an expanded scope of practice that allows them to practice autonomously if they wish, the overwhelming majority of hygienists in the Golden State (24,600) still affiliate with a dentist’s practice. As part of a dentist’s practice, they get to perform all the services they were trained to do with relative independence, but they don’t have to worry about the administrative parts of running a practice. Additionally, many dental hygienists work part-time from choice: One of the really great things about becoming a hygienist is how flexible the career is, and how well it allows you to juggle other responsibilities in your life. The remaining dental hygienists in California (570) are divided between hospitals and physicians’ practices.

IndustryNumber of Dental Hygienists
Offices of Dentists24,600
Offices of Physicians250

What is the Average Salary of a Dental Hygienist in California?

On average, a dental hygienist’s salary in California is a little more than $111,000 a year. Benefits vary from employer to employer but generally include vacation time and some type of health care coverage.

Type Salary
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Salary Based on Years of Experience

Years of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
Less than 1 year (Starting) $46.69 $8,090 $97,110
1-4 years $49.50 $8,580 $102,970
5-9 years $51.90 $9,000 $107,960
10-19 years $59.79 $10,360 $124,370
20 years or more $61.06 $10,580 $127,000
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Dental Hygienist Average Salary Comparison: California vs. National

California salaries for dental hygienists are considerably more than the national average. This probably reflects the fact that Californians as a whole are more health-oriented than people in other parts of the country, and their favorite type of health care is preventative health care.

California National Difference
Number %
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook

While the demand for dental hygienists in the Golden State is expected to grow by more than 22 percent by the year 2030, that growth rate is slightly lower than the growth rate in many other states. This suggests that the California market is close to saturated for entry-level hygienists. Dental hygienists in California may want to pursue a specialty that lets them stand apart.

Employment Employment Growth (2020-2030)
2020 2030 Number Percent
(Source: careeronestop)

Annual Job Openings

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop)

Metro Wise Employment & Salary Data

Nearly 9,560 hygienists work in the greater Los Angeles area. Given Angelenos’ obsession with looking their best at all times, this is hardly surprising. LA also has a large aging population who are interested in maintaining their natural teeth in as good a shape as possible. Similar dynamics apply in the San Francisco Bay Area, but since the population is smaller, only 3,780 hygienists work there. Salaries are slightly higher in the San Francisco metropolitan area.

There are far fewer hygienists in the less affluent cities of the Central Valley like Salinas, Fresno, and Modesto, which may reflect the fact that fewer people living there can afford out-of-pocket health care services like dental prophylaxis. The salaries that hygienists command are fairly standard across the state, however.

Metro Employment Average Salary
Hourly Monthly Annual
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 9,560 $53.78 $9,320 $111,860
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 3,780 $59.29 $10,280 $123,330
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade 2,120 $49.33 $8,550 $102,610
San Diego-Carlsbad 1,760 $51.12 $8,860 $106,320
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara 1,720 $58.83 $10,200 $122,370
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario 1,430 $47.76 $8,280 $99,350
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura 840 $49.44 $8,570 $102,840
Stockton-Lodi 470 $51.08 $8,850 $106,250
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara 460 $63.08 $10,930 $131,200
Santa Rosa 460 $57.56 $9,980 $119,730
Fresno 400 $42.80 $7,420 $89,020
Bakersfield 330 $44.25 $7,670 $92,050
Modesto 300 $52.26 $9,060 $108,710
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande 270 $54.05 $9,370 $112,420
Santa Cruz-Watsonville 230 $56.20 $9,740 $116,900
Visalia-Porterville 230 $49.14 $8,520 $102,210
Salinas 220 $53.61 $9,290 $111,510
Vallejo-Fairfield 190 $55.05 $9,540 $114,510
Redding 130 $47.84 $8,290 $99,510
Chico 110 $49.11 $8,510 $102,150
Napa 100 $55.38 $9,600 $115,180
Yuba City 80 $50.72 $8,790 $105,500
Madera 70 $48.75 $8,450 $101,400
Hanford-Corcoran 60 $49.87 $8,640 $103,720
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 9,560 $53.78 $9,320 $111,860
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Useful Dental Hygienist Organizations & Associations in California

California Dental Hygienists' Association (CDHA)

The California Dental Hygienists’ Association offers an active job board and access to liability and other forms of insurance.

California Dental Hygiene Educators’ Association (CDHEA)

The California Dental Hygiene Educators’ Association is a networking group for teachers of dental hygiene throughout the Golden State.

Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH
Pattie Trumble is a nurse who worked in both California and New York for many years as an emergency room nurse. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Associate Degree in Nursing from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. After 10 years of providing direct care, she went back to school and earned concurrent Master’s degrees in both public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, she worked for various public health agencies in California at both the community and state levels providing economic and legislative analysis.

Dental Hygiene Schools in other States

  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Washington