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Educational climates have been found to have important influences on learning, but little feedback has been obtained from dental hygiene students. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the learning climate in Japanese and Canadian dental hygiene programmes for the purpose of making positive changes. A survey instrument with 10 dimensions relating to learning climate was adapted from business and dental models, and designated as the Dental Hygiene Student Learning Climate Survey (DHS-LCS). Higher scores indicated a more positive and supportive learning climate, and lower scores indicated an environment that is potentially less desirable. Students enrolled in a Japanese and a Canadian dental hygiene programme participated in this four-year study from 2005 to 2008. A total of 402 surveys were returned for an average response rate of 62%. The mean total DHS-LCS score of Canadian students was statistically significantly higher than that of Japanese students (P < 0.001) in all years tested, indicating that the Canadian students' perceptions of their learning environment were more favourable than those of the Japanese students. Based on the analyses of the DHS-LCS data, interventions to improve learning climates were designed and implemented. There were statistically significant improvements (P < 0.01) in DHS-LCS scores of Japanese and Canadian students over the years of the study, suggesting that student-centred interventions improved the perceived learning environment. The instrument appears to be helpful in identifying student concerns and can be used to implement interventions to help support a healthier learning climate.