Deciding between pursuing dental hygiene or nursing can be a challenging decision. Both careers offer job security, good salaries, and the chance to help people, but which program is more difficult to get through?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Dental hygiene programs are generally considered to be more academically rigorous and intensive than nursing programs.

In this comprehensive guide, we will compare these two fields of study in depth. We’ll look at admission requirements, coursework, clinical training, licensure exams, job prospects, salaries, and more.

With nearly 2000 words of detailed analysis and advice from experts in both professions, you’ll have all the information you need to determine if dental hygiene or nursing is the right path for you.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Rina Takeuchi ็ซนๅ†… ้‡Œๅฅˆ (@rinaricci33)


Admission Requirements

Dental Hygiene Requirements

Admission into dental hygiene school typically requires meeting specific requirements. These requirements may vary slightly depending on the institution, but there are some common prerequisites. Most dental hygiene programs require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Additionally, applicants are usually required to have completed courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Some programs may also require courses in anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. In addition to academic prerequisites, applicants may need to pass an admission test and an interview process.

Nursing Requirements

Similarly, nursing schools also have specific admission requirements. As with dental hygiene programs, a high school diploma or equivalent is usually required for entry into nursing school. However, nursing programs often have additional prerequisites.

These may include courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Some nursing programs may also require applicants to have completed certain healthcare-related certifications, such as CPR certification.

In addition to academic requirements, nursing schools may also consider an applicant’s personal qualities and previous healthcare experience during the admission process.

Key Differences

While both dental hygiene and nursing programs have admission requirements, there are some key differences between the two. Dental hygiene programs tend to have a more focused set of prerequisites, with a strong emphasis on science courses related to oral health.

Nursing programs, on the other hand, have a broader range of prerequisites that cover various aspects of healthcare. Additionally, nursing programs may require applicants to have more hands-on healthcare experience compared to dental hygiene programs.

It’s important to note that the difficulty of meeting these requirements can vary depending on the individual and their background. Some individuals may find certain prerequisites more challenging than others, so it ultimately depends on the strengths and interests of the applicant.


Dental Hygiene Courses

Dental hygiene school coursework is specifically designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of oral health and dental care. Students in dental hygiene school typically take courses such as anatomy and physiology, dental radiography, dental materials, periodontology, and dental hygiene theory and practice.

These courses cover a wide range of topics, including dental anatomy, oral diseases, dental hygiene techniques, and patient care.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dr. Rita Fianda | Dentista (@dr.ritafianda)


Nursing Courses

Nursing school coursework, on the other hand, focuses on providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to provide holistic care to patients. Nursing students usually take courses in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical-surgical nursing, pediatric nursing, and psychiatric nursing.

These courses cover various aspects of healthcare, including medical conditions, treatment plans, medication administration, and patient assessment.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by CharMED Stethoscope Bling (@charmedbling)


Course Difficulty Comparison

Comparing the difficulty of dental hygiene school to nursing school is subjective, as it depends on individual strengths and interests. However, both programs require a significant amount of dedication, hard work, and critical thinking skills.

In terms of coursework, dental hygiene school may be more focused on specific dental-related topics, while nursing school covers a broader range of medical conditions and patient care. This difference in coursework may make dental hygiene school more challenging for those who are more interested in general healthcare.

It’s important to note that both dental hygiene and nursing programs have their own unique challenges. Dental hygiene students must master precise dental techniques and develop excellent hand-eye coordination, while nursing students must navigate complex medical scenarios and be prepared to provide care in various healthcare settings.

Ultimately, the difficulty of dental hygiene school versus nursing school depends on the individual’s personal strengths, interests, and learning style. Some students may find dental hygiene school more challenging, while others may thrive in a nursing program.

It’s essential to choose a career path that aligns with your interests and passions to ensure success and fulfillment in your chosen profession.

Clinical Training

Dental Hygiene Clinicals

In dental hygiene school, students undergo extensive clinical training to gain the necessary hands-on experience for their future careers. This training typically takes place in dental hygiene clinics, where students work under the supervision of licensed dental hygienists and dentists.

During these clinicals, students learn and practice various dental procedures, such as teeth cleanings, taking dental x-rays, applying fluoride treatments, and educating patients on oral hygiene practices.

One of the key aspects of dental hygiene clinicals is learning how to effectively communicate with patients and provide them with personalized care. Students develop their interpersonal skills and learn how to address patients’ concerns and educate them about maintaining good oral health.

This hands-on experience allows dental hygiene students to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom and develop proficiency in dental procedures.

Nursing Clinicals

Similarly, nursing students also undergo clinical training as part of their education. Nursing clinicals provide students with the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they have learned in the classroom to real-life patient care scenarios.

These clinicals take place in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings, where students work alongside registered nurses and other healthcare professionals.

During nursing clinicals, students learn and practice a wide range of skills, including administering medication, taking vital signs, assisting with patient assessments, and providing basic patient care.

They also learn how to effectively communicate with patients, their families, and the healthcare team. Nursing clinicals provide students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and develop the necessary clinical skills and critical thinking abilities to provide quality patient care.

Hands-On Experience Comparison

When comparing dental hygiene clinicals and nursing clinicals, both programs offer valuable hands-on experience that is essential for students’ future careers in healthcare. However, there are some differences in the specific skills and procedures that students learn.

In dental hygiene clinicals, students focus on dental procedures and oral health education. They learn how to perform teeth cleanings, take dental x-rays, and provide preventive treatments. Dental hygiene students also gain experience in educating patients about proper oral hygiene practices and addressing their oral health concerns.

In nursing clinicals, students learn a broader range of skills related to patient care. They gain experience in administering medication, assisting with medical procedures, and providing basic patient care.

Nursing students also learn how to assess patients’ conditions, develop care plans, and communicate effectively with patients and their families.

It is important to note that the difficulty of clinical training can vary depending on individual strengths and preferences. Some students may find certain procedures or skills more challenging than others, but both dental hygiene and nursing clinicals require dedication, hard work, and a commitment to providing quality patient care.

Licensure Exams

When it comes to pursuing a career in healthcare, both dental hygiene and nursing require individuals to pass licensure exams in order to practice. These exams serve as a way to ensure that professionals have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective care to patients.

Dental Hygiene Exams

For aspiring dental hygienists, the licensure exam is known as the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE). This comprehensive exam assesses the candidate’s understanding of dental hygiene theory, clinical skills, and ethical considerations.

It consists of 350 multiple-choice questions and is administered over two sessions.

The NBDHE covers topics such as dental anatomy, radiology, periodontics, and community oral health. It also includes case-based questions that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition to the written portion, some states may also require candidates to complete a clinical examination to demonstrate their practical abilities.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dental Hygiene Seminars (@therealdentalhygieneseminars)


Nursing Exams

Nursing licensure exams vary depending on the country or state in which one intends to practice. In the United States, the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the standard exam for aspiring registered nurses. The NCLEX-PN is the exam for practical nurses.


The NCLEX-RN consists of multiple-choice questions that assess a candidate’s ability to apply nursing knowledge and make safe clinical judgments. The exam covers a wide range of topics, including physiology, pharmacology, and patient care management.

It also includes questions that require critical thinking and prioritization skills.

Exam Difficulty Comparison

Comparing the difficulty of dental hygiene and nursing licensure exams is subjective and can vary from individual to individual. Both exams require a solid understanding of the respective fields and a dedication to studying and preparation.

Some dental hygiene students may find the NBDHE challenging due to the extensive content coverage and the need to integrate theoretical knowledge with practical applications. On the other hand, nursing students may face the difficulty of the NCLEX exams in terms of the volume of information to be covered and the pressure of making critical decisions in a simulated clinical setting.

It’s important to note that the difficulty of these exams should not discourage individuals from pursuing a career in dental hygiene or nursing. With proper preparation, including studying from reputable resources, practicing sample questions, and seeking guidance from experienced professionals, aspiring healthcare providers can increase their chances of passing these exams successfully.

Job Prospects and Salary

Dental Hygiene Job Outlook

When it comes to job prospects, dental hygiene offers a promising future for those interested in the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow by 7 percent from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth can be attributed to several factors, including an aging population in need of dental care and an increased focus on preventative dental care.

Furthermore, the demand for dental hygienists is expected to rise as more dental practices are being established. Dental hygienists can find employment in various settings, including private dental offices, clinics, hospitals, and educational institutions.

This versatility in job opportunities provides dental hygienists with a wide range of options to choose from in their career.

Nursing Job Outlook

Similar to dental hygiene, nursing also offers a positive job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by 6 percent from 2022 to 2032, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth is primarily driven by an increasing emphasis on preventive care, an aging population, and the need to replace retiring nurses.

Nurses have the advantage of working in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home healthcare. They also have the option to specialize in different areas of nursing, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or critical care.

This flexibility in specialization allows nurses to explore different career paths and find their niche in the healthcare industry.

Salary Comparison

When it comes to salary, both dental hygiene and nursing offer competitive compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $81,400 in May 2022. On the other hand, the median annual wage for registered nurses was $81,220 in the same period.

It’s important to note that salaries can vary depending on factors such as location, experience, and education level. Nurses and dental hygienists who work in metropolitan areas or specialize in certain areas may earn higher salaries compared to those in rural areas or with less experience.

Ultimately, both dental hygiene and nursing offer solid job prospects and competitive salaries. It’s important for individuals to consider their interests, aptitudes, and long-term career goals when deciding between these two rewarding professions.


In summary, while both dental hygiene and nursing programs require dedication and hard work, most experts agree that dental hygiene coursework and training is more academically and clinically rigorous overall. However, nursing offers more flexibility and a wider range of potential career paths.

As you consider these two rewarding but demanding healthcare professions, reflect carefully on your strengths, passions, and career goals. With preparation and persistence, you can succeed in either dental hygiene or nursing school.

Similar Posts