RDH looking at Certificate Programs Online

5 Specialty Certificates Dental Hygienists Should Consider in 2024

Jan 31, 2024

As dentistry and medicine work toward better integration, Registered Dental Hygienists (RDHs) continue to be instrumental in the shifts that are occurring. As the prevention specialists of dentistry, most continue to further their education beyond licensure, securing a Master’s or Doctorate degree. For some, however, it is not feasible due to time, family demands, or finances. Certificate programs for RDHs help to bridge the gap between hygiene school curriculum updates (which can be incredibly slow) and rising demands.

The idea of specialization in the field of dental hygiene is not new. We already have hygienists who specialize in periodontics, cosmetic dentistry, and pediatrics. They learn specialty information on the job from fellow dental providers, or are tasked with piecing together continuing education that fits their specialty needs via internet search.

Rarely is that continuing education specific for dental hygienists, and is never as comprehensive as a certificate program, which typically has some type of hands-on or implementation component to ensure a deeper level of understanding that is relevant and applicable immediately.

At National Network of Healthcare Hygienists (NNHH), we were inspired by the nursing profession’s ability to take on-demand specialty certificate programs online. Some RNs have just one certificate beyond licensure, some have many. It’s a way to distinguish themselves and the demographic they are passionate about caring for. It’s also a way for healthcare systems to outsource training instead of having to provide it. Our Board of Directors has a mission to offer the same to Registered Dental Hygienists.


Here are five specialty areas RDHs should consider for 2024:

1. Oral Systemic Educator Certificate for RDHs

Hygienists are the leaders in patient education in a dental setting. They enjoy empowering their patients to leave each appointment with a new nugget of information that will increase their overall health and wellness. As medical systems begin to integrate dentistry and oral health protocols, RDHs are instrumental in educating medical collaborative care teams and patients on the oral-systemic link.

To ensure you are up to date with the latest research, treatments, and language, NNHH has gathered the top educators in the field of dental hygiene who already have specialized knowledge in specific areas of medicine or collaborative care. The Oral Systemic Educator Certificate Program offers a review of physiological terms, bi-directional disease states and talking points for colleagues, multidisciplinary team education and patient motivation. RDH clinicians, educators, speakers and consultants have all found great value in the program which is self-paced, fully online, and offers 34 CE. It does require a Capstone Project to assist with implementation of learning to receive a certificate of completion.

2. Implant Maintenance Certificate for RDHs

The rate of implant placement continues to increase with many general dentists now advancing their education and placing them in house. That means hygienists need to be prepared to treat implants, but in-depth knowledge and laboratory instruction are not yet standardized among dental hygiene program curriculums.

The Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries (ADIA) is an organization dedicated to the education and advancement of every member of the implant team. They promote implant dentistry as a collaboration between team members, where each member plays a valuable and indispensable role. As such, they have certificate programs for a dental hygienist, dental assistant, practice manager or implant coordinator.

Most implant certificates for RDHs include a hands-on clinical lab portion of instruction, so finding a class within an hour of driving distance can keep the fees low so that you don't have to fly or pay for overnight lodging. Finding a nearby course that starts soon can be challenging.

3. Public Health Certificate for RDHs

Most states offer some type of additional training, application or system which allows hygienists a less restrictive environment for providing care to the underserved such as this program in Illinois: Public Health Dental Hygienist Certificate. Check with your state’s Board of Dentistry to inquire about the supervision guidelines and the application process and fees. Some are fully online and some require in-person attendance at an event, like the state of Illinois does.

Start by volunteering your time at your local school or health department to find out if you enjoy this work. Most find it very rewarding, yet since the need is so high and reimbursement can be low, you may find it draining to care for a high number of patients per day. Mobile dental hygiene and school-based programs also fall under the umbrella of public health. Some states require mobile dental businesses to be nonprofits, so again, check with your state and try out a few angles.

There are also Public Health Bachelor and Master’s degree programs. If you enjoy the administrative side of healthcare, or would like a hybrid part-clinical, part-administrative role, a degree may help you secure that type of position over someone with the public health certificate only.

4. Laser Certificate

The use of lasers for preventative, therapeutic and cosmetic treatments are on the rise. Laser Technology continues to become more sophisticated, allowing a dental hygienist to expand their repertoire of services. The most basic diode lasers on the market can allow a hygienist to perform services such as laser bacterial reduction, sulcular debridement, dentinal hypersensitivity treatment, and more versatile lasers allow for treatment options like lip plumping, whitening and TMJ pain therapy. 

A Laser Certificate is an international standard curriculum that requires the dental professional to have a basic understanding of the physics, biocellular modalities, operational and safety function the laser provides. A dental hygienist who puts the acquired laser knowledge into practice and uses the tool on a consistent basis, thereby deepens their knowledge of the patient selection through the oral-systemic connection, as laser is a direct host modulatory therapy. They will also enhance their skills in risk and disease management of periodontal disease, its progression and maintenance — learning the patients’ and laser’s true capacity for healing, stabilization and control. 

Laser guidelines vary by state. Learn more about your state's specific laws, and both the Level 1 or Advanced Level 2 Certificate at www.dentallaserintegrations.com.

5. Oncology Certificate for RDHs

When we think of oral health equity, we rarely think of oncology patients. However, from an oral health and oral management perspective, they are a very vulnerable, underserved population. Their mouths require additional attention during treatment, yet they typically receive little to no oral health education or care at all. Oral mucositis is the most debilitating side effect of cancer therapy, is life-threatening, and has been correlated with increased rates of mortality1. Hygienists are perfectly poised to prevent and manage it, as well as xerostomia, trismus and more.

While integrated cancer treatment facilities are sparse, there are an increasing number of successful programs that include an RDH on their interprofessional team. It is easier when dental services are offered in house, yet possible even when dental clearance and treatment is performed off site. Then the RDH becomes the bridge between the two specialties, able to speak both languages, help set up education, protocols, referral systems, palliative care treatment and more. 

To date, NNHH has the only Oncology Certificate Program for RDHs available. It was modeled after successful programs like those at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and CARTI Cancer Center, is self-paced, and fully online. It includes everything you need to better advocate for your cancer patients in private practice dentistry, or carve out a position for yourself at your local cancer treatment facility, plus offers 15 CE. Feel prepared to prevent and treat cancer treatment side-effects with the most up-to-date research, products and technology, as well as the most thorough screening techniques for early diagnosis and increased rates of survivorship. A Capstone Project helps students get their foot in the door and begin networking with their local cancer treatment facility, and is required to earn a certificate of completion.

At NNHH, we envision a future where a percentage of RDHs embrace the role of a “Healthcare Hygienist.” Educating patients on oral-systemic health, and preventing disease systemically are primary healthcare roles, not dental maintenance roles. More referral systems for dental treatment and follow up are needed, and hygienists are perfectly positioned to create and manage them. We hope to see more options for comprehensive certificate programs be developed so that hygienists no longer have to piece together information on the internet and hope they aren’t missing an important element of the specialty population they are assessing and treating. As more and more hygienists begin integrated positions within healthcare systems, more certificate programs will be needed. We are proud to be on the leading edge of this shift, offering two of the above certificates and a support system for hygienists with a patient-centered, whole-body approach to their practice.

1. Lalla R.V., Sonis S.T., Peterson D.E. Management of Oral Mucositis in Patients Who Have Cancer. Dent. Clin. N. Am. 2008;52:61–77. doi: 10.1016/j.cden.2007.10.002. - DOI PMC PubMed

Are you an RDH interested in dental/medical integration and collaboration? Distinguish yourself as a specialist in your field while earning AGD/PACE CE. All of our programs are unbiased and evidence-based to focus solely on high-quality continuing education you can use immediately in a clinical, non-clinical or hybrid role.