Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate the trends in dental hygienists' education and regulation in the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) to examine whether, since 2003, there has been harmonization in dental hygiene education.
Methods: Information and data were obtained via piloted questionnaires and structured interviews with delegates from the International and European Dental Hygienists' Federations and representatives of the Council of European Chief Dental Officers and by literature review.
Results: In the EU/EEA, dental hygienists are legally recognized in 22 countries. Since 2003, there has been an increase in the number of Bachelor degree programmes and in autonomous practice. Entry to the profession is now exclusively via a Bachelor degree in five EU/EEA Member States and pending in two more. Ten Member States have adapted their degree programmes to the European Credit Transfer System. Two Member States combine education for dental hygienists and dental therapists. However, dental hygienists are not recognized by EU law and in five Members States, the introduction of the profession has been opposed by dental associations.
Conclusions: For the reasons of wide variations in the standards of preventive care and periodontal therapies, the formal recognition of the dental hygiene profession by EU legislation and agreement on a pan-European curriculum for dental hygiene education leading to defined professional competencies and learning outcomes is required. To achieve this, there is a need for a better collaboration between competent authorities including governments, universities and dental and dental hygienists' associations.