Dental hygienists work closely with dentists and patients on oral hygiene and education efforts. They generally earn a two-year degree before starting in a dental practice or other setting and earn a salary on par with registered nurses among health care workers.
Summary of Job Description
Dental hygienists are usually the first person a patient sees when they go into a dental office for a regular cleaning. They clean teeth using a variety of dental instruments, check the gums, mouth and teeth for signs of cavities or other health problems, answer questions about home dental care and report on the patient’s overall oral health to the dentist.
Dental hygiene is usually offered as a two-year degree by community colleges, universities, dental schools and tech colleges. After earning the associate’s degree students can take the licensure exams for the states or regions they wish to work in, then upon passing they qualify to assist on dentistry under the supervision of a licensed dentist. Some universities will offer further schooling to students who wish to go into teaching, research and school-based clinical practices.
Typical Career Paths
Most dental hygienists will go to work for a dental practice after getting licensed. In those private practices they will work with patients on preventive care and general cleanings. Others choose to work in schools and public health initiatives, where they teach oral hygiene, offer services to those without regular dental care, and work closely with different social services and community organizations. Some choose research-based careers or to teach dental hygiene to future hygienists.
Frequent Areas of Employment
Private practices are the largest employers of dental hygienists. Many others work in K-12 schools to provide some level of dental care and education to children, while others work for colleges and universities to teach dental hygiene students. Some work for community organizations and public clinics to provide care to those underserved by private dental practices.
Dental hygienists receive a salary on par with other health care workers who provide preventive and supervised care to patients, such as registered nurses. The starting salary for a dental hygienist varies depending on the state and type of practice but the median starting salary is around 55,000 dollars and rises to around 66,000 for all dental hygienists. Some of the highest paid hygienists earn over 80,000 dollars per year. The exact payroll can vary from one state to another because of different costs of living and dental services, but the highest median salaries were found in California and Connecticut.
Dental hygienists work mainly on preventive dental care in many different settings, with good opportunities for annual pay and a positive hiring outlook.
Dental Hygienist Job Outlook
Dental Hygienist salary comparison by state
New Hampshire (NH)
New Jersey (NJ)
New Mexico (NM)
New York (NY)
North Carolina (NC)
North Dakota (ND)
Puerto Rico (PR)
Rhode Island (RI)
South Carolina (SC)
South Dakota (SD)
Washington DC (DC)
West Virginia (WV)