Dental Hygienist Careers

NUMBER OF JOBS

181,800

JOB OPENINGS

68,500

JOB GROWTH

38%

AVG. SALARY

$68,250 /yr

$32.81 /hr

All Stats from BLS.gov

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health. They may also take and interpret X-rays and monitor patient treatment.

Dental Hygienist Job Description

Dental hygienists work with dentists to provide patient care and educate patients—as well as keeping track of treatments and evaluating outcomes. The job is state-regulated, and other tasks dental hygienists do can vary based on state law. In some states, dental hygienists can also install and fit temporary fillings and periodontal dressings. 

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Earn an Associate’s degree. An Associate’s in dental hygiene is needed to get started in this career. Some dental hygienists have certifications, Bachelor’s degrees, or even Master’s degrees—but these are rare and not usually expected by employers. The exception is if you’re planning to teach or practice in a public or school-run health program; in which case you may need a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

There are specific dental hygiene programs that offer an Associate’s degree at the end. Most of these programs require only a high school diploma—classes in math, chemistry, and biology are helpful—but some require applicants to have a year of college under their belts.

Get licensure. In every state, dental hygienists must earn a state license. Many states regulate and accredit dental hygiene programs, and you will most likely be required to hold at least an Associate’s degree from a state-accredited program and to pass a written exam. Every state’s expectations for licensure vary, so check with your state medical board to find out what the requirements for licensure are in yours.

Dental Hygienists and Online Degrees

There are some accredited online degree programs for dental hygiene out there. However, the laboratory and clinical components are highly important in this field—so it’s crucial to make sure that your program provides hands-on learning opportunities, perhaps through partnerships with local schools or clinics. Also, most states accredit dental hygiene schools. Whether you are looking to attend school online or in a traditional classroom setting, be sure the dental hygiene program you choose is accredited by your state.

Dental Hygienist Salary

Dental hygienists earn an average of $68,250 as of 2010, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Those in the lower earnings category brought home under $45,000, while those in the higher earned more than $93,820.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook also notes that dental hygienists often work part time—a solid 62%, as of 2010 numbers. Pay may be hourly in this field, or workers may be paid by day or on commission. Benefits and yearly salaries are usually only available to those who work full-time.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

The number of jobs available in this field is projected to grow 38% in the coming decade, according to the Handbook—much faster than the growth of jobs as a whole. Dental practices are predicted to expand as an aging population demands more health services, new technologies increase dentists’ abilities to diagnose problems, and more widespread dental insurance as a result of President Obama’s health care initiative. As dentists’ practices expand, dentists will need to hire more dental hygienists to keep up.

However, because dental hygienists are so often employed part time, it’s easy for their employers to cut back on their hours when demand decreases. As a result, dental hygienists can be vulnerable to losing income and hours as the result of a drop in demand in their individual dentist’s office.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Dental Hygienist

This job does not require a large investment in time or money to get in on the ground floor—entry-level positions usually do not require more than an Associate’s degree. In addition, the pay is fairly high for a predominantly part-time job. For these reasons, this job can be extremely attractive.

The part-time hours can be both a benefit and a drawback. For those who prefer to work part-time or who need flexible scheduling, the hours are ideal—and this job can be exceptionally flexible. However, the part-time nature of the work can also mean drops in revenue along with drops in demand—and it can also be difficult to find a dental hygienist’s position that offers full benefits unless the position is full-time.

The work itself tends not to be onerous—as long as you don’t mind working on people’s mouths. There is no or very little heavy lifting or other strenuous activity, although as a dental hygienist you may be on your feet for a few hours at a time. Even so, many people find this job worthwhile—and an ideal fit for a busy schedule.

 

For Further Study:

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dental Hygienists

Where to Find Dental Hygienist Jobs:

Indeed.com
Monster.com

SimplyHired.com