Dental Hygienists

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care.

Work Environment: Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and many work part time.

How to Become One: Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Programs usually take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

Salary: The median annual wage for dental hygienists is $74,820.

Job Outlook: Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dental hygienists with similar occupations.

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Top 3 Dental Hygienist Jobs

  • Dental Hygienist - Lynden Hills Dentistry - Brantford

    Our philosophy is to always put our patients' well-being first

  • Full Time Dental Hygienist Position - D L - Saskatoon

    Candidates must be legally eligible to work in Canada. We thank all applicants, but only suitable applicants will be

  • Dental Hygienist RDH - Scarborough Dental Office - Scarborough

    Role: - Provide excellent patient care - Chairside duties include scaling and root planing, taking radiographs, providing oral hygiene instruction

See all Dental Hygienist jobs

What Dental Hygienists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

Duties of Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists typically do the following:

  • Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
  • Take and develop dental x rays
  • Assess patients' oral health and report findings to dentists
  • Document patient care and treatment plans
  • Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly

Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists remove stains with an air-polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems. Some states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to work with an expanded scope of practice.

Dental hygienists help patients develop and maintain good oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They may also give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral care devices.

The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent to which they must be supervised by a dentist, vary by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. For example, some states allow hygienists to diagnose certain health problems independently of a dentist.

Work Environment for Dental Hygienists[About this section] [To Top]

Dental hygienists hold about 219,800 jobs. The largest employers of dental hygienists are as follows:

Offices of dentists 94%
Offices of physicians 1%
Government 1%

Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. When taking x rays, they follow strict procedures to protect themselves and patients from radiation.

Dental Hygienist Work Schedules

Many dental hygienists work part time. Dentists often hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Dental Hygienists near you!

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Programs typically take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

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Education for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor's and master's degree programs in dental hygiene also are available, but are less common. A bachelor's or master's degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Dental hygiene programs are commonly found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. In 2017, the Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, accredited more than 300 dental hygiene programs.

Programs typically take 3 years to complete, and offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Areas of study include physiology, nutrition, radiography, pathology, medical ethics, anatomy, patient management, and periodontics, which is the study of gum disease.

High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Most dental hygiene programs also require applicants to complete prerequisites, which often include college-level courses. Specific requirements vary by school.

Important Qualities for Dental Hygienists

Critical thinking. Dental hygienists must use critical thinking skills in order to assess and evaluate patients.

Communication skills. Dental hygienists must accurately communicate with dentists and patients about oral health status, oral hygiene care plans, and, as needed, lifestyle counseling.

Detail oriented. Dental hygienists must follow specific rules and protocols to help dentists diagnose and treat a patient. Depending on the state in which they work and/or the treatment provided, dental hygienists may work without the direct supervision of a dentist.

Dexterity. Dental hygienists must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, requiring fine motor skills using very precise tools and instruments.

Interpersonal skills. Dental hygienists must work closely with dentists and patients. Some patients are in extreme pain or have fears about undergoing dental treatment, and the hygienist must be sensitive to their emotions.

Problem-solving skills. Dental hygienists develop and implement oral hygiene care plans to maintain or improve patients' oral health.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Dental Hygienists

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing grades on written and clinical examinations are required for licensure. To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. For specific requirements, contact your state's Board of Dental Examiners.

Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Dental Hygienist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for dental hygienists is $74,820. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,820.

The median annual wages for dental hygienists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Offices of dentists $75,090
Offices of physicians $71,630
Government $60,630

Benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and retirement contributions vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.

Many dental hygienists work part time. Dentists often hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. As the large baby-boom population ages and people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to drive demand for dental care.

Studies linking oral health and general health, and efforts to expand access to oral hygiene services, will continue to drive the demand for preventive dental services. As a result, the demand for all dental services, including those performed by hygienists, will increase. In addition, demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow as state laws increasingly allow dental hygienists to work at the top of their training, and they effectively become more productive.

Job Prospects for Dental Hygienists

Job prospects for dental hygienists are expected to vary by geographic location.

Entry into dental hygiene programs is often competitive, with the number of applicants to accredited dental hygiene programs exceeding the number of students accepted. In addition, dental hygienists are less likely to leave their occupation than are workers in other occupations. But overall job prospects are expected to be relatively good as the number of openings in this occupation is projected to exceed the number of graduates from dental hygiene programs.

Opportunities are expected to be best for dental hygienists who are willing to work in underserved areas and for those who are open to working less than 40 hours a week.

Employment projections data for Dental Hygienists, 2018-28
Occupational Title Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28
Percent Numeric
Dental hygienists 219,800 243,500 11 23,700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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