Is a Master’s Degree in Dental Hygiene Worth It?

Earning a master’s degree in any field is a significant investment both in time and money. For dental hygienists with bachelor degrees, going on to further their education can provide an array of professional benefits. Here is some advice from dental hygienists with advanced degrees.


“I would definitely recommend a master of science in dental hygiene (MSDH) for those interested in didactic teaching. I think becoming an expert in dental hygiene is what is important if you are teaching others dental hygiene. In our program at the University of New Mexico, all faculty members are required to have a MSDH.”

—Christine Nathe, RDH, MS

Professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene


“Deciding what to concentrate on for your master’s degree can be a tough decision. My master’s is in education even though I work in both public health and education. Sometimes I wish that I had that second degree in public health. Although I have learned a lot from working in the public health field, I believe formal training is invaluable.”

—Kathryn Dolan, RDH, MEd

Assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Community Service at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and the Director of the Tufts Statewide Community Dental Program in Boston


“I received my bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene education when I was on the path to teach part-time and full-time. But, a master’s degree is usually the minimum requirement these days to secure a full-time position as a dental hygiene educator. Most schools seeking clinical instructors only, may accept a bachelor of science and it is best if this degree is focused in the track of education.

When I went on for my master’s degree, I chose NOT to pursue this in a dental hygiene degree program. I felt that this would only focus my studies and mentoring as an educator for dental hygiene ONLY. My dental hygiene school director gave me advice and I still believe it was the best advice I ever received while pursuing my higher degree. She said that it may be best to study in a master’s degree program ‘outside of the dental world’ so that it broadens your opportunities in various areas of interest.

So, I applied and attended night classes to attain a master’s degree in education from Penn State University—annex campus. This program was designed to offer a Master of Education. but in ‘Instructional Design and Training.’ This allowed me to take classes and courses that were in adult education and my classmates were mostly from corporate training positions in companies in my area. I learned more about designing effective training, which was more useful to me when I made the jump into a corporate position after teaching in dental hygiene programs. I now use these skills in training sales hires and developing all sorts of design to train.  If I had gone to a dental hygiene-specific program, it would have narrowed my knowledge and skills.”

—Lillian J. Caperila, RDH, MEd

Manager and international presenter of professional continuing education for Premier Dental Products Co in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania


“My advice is ALWAYS to advance your degree because it opens doors. Our accreditation process requires that faculty teaching in a program must have one degree higher than students in the program. So technically with a bachelor’s degree, you could work in a program that awards an associate degree in dental hygiene. One of the reasons we encourage students to do a degree-completion program for their bachelor’s or get the graduate dental hygiene degree is because all of the questions about what an educator would do in clinic is covered in the dental hygiene baccalaureate and graduate programs.”

— Cynthia C. Gadbury-Amyot, MSDH, EdD

Associate dean of instructional technology and faculty development and a professor in the Division of Dental Hygiene at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry


“Getting your master’s degree in any field is an accomplishment. What route to go depends on your interests and passions. Both the MSDH and MPH are worthwhile degrees. It depends on if you prefer education, then a MSDH may be more preferable. If you prefer public health, then an MPH may be more to your liking. An MSDH may lead you to stay in the academic community and work with other students. Public health may be in organizations or in government agencies—this could be at the local, state, or national levels. Both are worthwhile degrees that you can use in education, public health, administration, corporate, and research fields. Talk to an admissions person in both a MSDH and a MPH program. Talk to someone who has a MSDH degree and someone with an MPH and ask them the questions you have here. Look at schools and see what the programs offer in career counseling and placement. You need to look at your long-term goals to determine what path you choose.”

— Christine M. Farrell, RDH, BSDH, MPA

Oral health director for the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Oral Health Program.


“In my opinion, you do need at least a master’s degree in education to work in academia and related research. Or if you are thinking of community-based research, you may want to consider earning a Master of Public Health. Either way, enroll in a program that requires a thesis, which will provide you with some helpful research skills. Not to overload your thoughts, but if you are interested in research, consider earning a PhD.”

— Alice M. Horowitz, RDH, MA, PhD

Research associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland-College Park

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