2022 Edition

NBDHE Test Guide

The National Board Dental Hygiene Exam Test Summary
What: The National Board Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE) is a state-licensing test to become a practicing dental hygienist.
Who: Published by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE).
Where: Pearson VUE testing centers located throughout the United States, its territories, and Canada.
When: Exams can be scheduled year-round.
How: The NBDHE is a computer-based exam.
Type: Computerized
Why: Success on the NBDHE is required to practice dental hygiene in the US.
Time: Approximately 9 hours, including an optional hour-long lunch break.
Language: English
Preparation: The JCNDE recommends using textbooks and lecture notes as primary study materials but they have also released past versions of the NBDHE for review.
Cost: There are fees to take the exam.

The dental hygiene industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the marketplace. The demand for dental hygienists has steadily increased in the past few years and job prospects for students graduating from dental school are plentiful. Students interested in becoming dental hygienists must have a high school diploma (or equivalent) and receive at least an associate's degree from an accredited dental hygiene program. Students must also pass state licensing exams to practice dental hygiene within their chosen state.

Success on the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam is a requirement to practice dental hygiene in the United States. The exam tests students on their understanding of dental, biomedical, and dental hygiene sciences and assesses their ability to apply this information in a problem-solving context. Students may take the NBDHE no sooner than four months before they are to receive a dental hygiene diploma and must obtain certification of approval for testing from the director of their program.

Licensing to practice dental hygiene is regulated by individual states and typically administered by State Boards of Dentistry. All states require at least three minimum qualifications: successful completion of a dental hygiene program, a written exam, and a clinical exam. Before applying to take the NBDHE, students must confirm that they have read the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam Guide, published by the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE). This guide and the application form can be found at www.ada.org. A non-refundable fee of $265 dollars must be paid when applying for the NBDHE. 

NBDHE is a computer-based exam that is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers located throughout the United States, its territories, and Canada. The center is equipped with video surveillance cameras and Pearson staff members are trained to diligently observe test-takers. Candidates taking the NBDHE will be provided a dry erase board and a dry erase marker to use as scratch space during the exam. Candidates can electronically schedule their own testing time and date throughout the year.

Administering the NBDHE takes approximately 9 hours, including an optional hour-long lunch break. Candidates must report to their testing centers 30 minutes before the exam starts and complete a 15-minute exam tutorial. Candidates will then be given three and a half hours to complete 200 discipline-based items. This first session will cover many skills, including use of preventive agents, assessing patient characteristics, and interpreting radiographs. After the hour-long optional lunch break, a second four-hour long session will contain 150 patient-case items. Items on the exam will cover topics that dental hygienists must know to perform their duties and the American Dental Association Universal/National tooth notation system will be used. A 15-minute post-survey will follow the examination.

Each NBDHE edition has its own unique grading scale based upon the national average. To pass the exam, candidates must receive a score that is higher than the standard score. There is no penalty for selecting incorrect answers. Retaking the NBDHE is permitted, but may not occur within 90 days of the last exam administration. Candidates who receive a passing score on the NBDHE will not be permitted to retake the exam unless required to by a state or regulatory agency. Candidates who have failed the exam three times will be required to wait 12 months before retaking it.

Please review our NBDHE directory for additional NBDHE test preparation materials.

Quality starts with who wrote the material.
Our practice exam writer
Sharon Boyd, RDH
, has been a registered dental hygienist for over 10 years. She specializes in creating educational material for dental studies and has been a head continuing education curriculum writer for an American Dental Association CERP provider.

Abby Altergott, RDH
, has been a registered dental hygienist for over 8 years. She has worked in the specialties of oral surgery, periodontics and orthodontics.

Licensing of dental hygienists in the U.S. is regulated by the individual states. Currently, all states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands recognize exam results from the National Board of Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE). The exam assesses a hygienist’s ability to understand relevant information including basic biomedical, dental and dental hygiene sciences and the ability to apply the information into a problem-solving context.

The NBDHE consists of 350 questions. There are 2 components to the NBDHE:

Discipline-based questions on the following three areas: Scientific Basis for Dental Hygiene Practice, Provision of Clinical Dental Hygiene Services and Community Health/Research Principles.

Dental Hygiene Patient Cases containing at least one geriatric, periodontal, pediatric, special needs and medically compromised patient.