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New MSDH program launching at UTHealth Houston

Shortage of dental hygiene educators predicted

Published: July 10, 2019 by Ruth SoRelle, MPH

In a clinic bay, a dental hygiene instructor points to a computer screen as a dental hygiene student looks on. both are in masks, scrubs, and gloves.
Dental hygiene educators with master's degrees are qualified to teach at the university level. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews.
At a table in a classroom, Clinical Assistant Professor Ruth Conn, RDH, MSDH, shows a dental hygiene student how to sharpen and instrument.
Clinical Assistant Professor Ruth Conn, RDH, MSDH, works with dental hygiene students in a class on how to sharpen instruments. Photo by Brian Schnupp.

UTHealth School of Dentistry at Houston will offer a new master of science degree in dental hygiene, opening new doors for those who already have a bachelor’s degree, even in another field. 

“This gives dental hygienists the opportunity to teach at the university level or in a dental school, where a master’s degree is a requirement or preferred,” said Dental Hygiene Program Director and Distinguished Teaching Professor Donna Warren Morris, RDH, MEd.

“A master’s degree gives a dental hygienist the education and credentials to direct a program in dental hygiene or assume other administrative roles. It broadens opportunities to work in sales or oral health research.”

The new MSDH program will require 33 semester credit hours of upper-level courses focusing on dental hygiene education. Coursework may be taken full- or part-time but must be completed within five years.

Because nearly three-fourths of the program is online, students may continue working while taking classes. “They can work and take two courses a semester until they get to the practicum courses,” Morris said.

John Valenza, DDS, dean of the School of Dentistry, said offering a master’s degree in dental hygiene “is an important next step for our school in advancing the education and practice of dental hygiene while expanding our partnerships with other schools at UTHealth.”

Already, the School of Dentistry and UTHealth School of Public Health offer dental hygiene baccalaureate students an option for concurrent enrollment leading to a certificate or master’s degree in public health.

Morris noted dental hygiene educators are in demand. The American Dental Education Association reported that approximately 75 percent of dental hygiene educators were over age 40 in 2016, and more than half will be retirement age in five to 10 years, opening up new jobs for dental hygienists with master’s degrees.  “Our program teaches you how to teach,” she said.

In fact, two courses in the master’s curriculum will be similar to the practice-teaching requirement in Texas teacher certification programs, but in this case, the practice teaching will take place within the Dental Hygiene Program. The graduate students will present lectures, in addition to teaching good clinical practice.

The School of Dentistry will begin accepting applications for the new program on Nov. 1, 2019 and continue until June 1, 2020. Applicants must submit all transcripts and a letter of reference. Visit for complete information about this and other dental hygiene options at UTHealth Houston.

Classes began in August 2021.

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