Dental Hygienists

Summary

dental hygienists image
Dental hygienists examine patients’ teeth and gums for signs of oral diseases or abnormalities.
Quick Facts: Dental Hygienists
2015 Median Pay $72,330 per year
$34.77 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 200,500
Job Outlook, 2014-24 19% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 37,400

What Dental Hygienists Do

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.

Work Environment

In 2014, almost all dental hygienists worked in dentists’ offices, and more than half worked part time.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,330 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to spur demand for preventive dental services, which are provided by dental hygienists.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for dental hygienists.

Similar Occupations

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

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about dental hygienists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Dental Hygienists Do About this section

Dental hygienists
Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and their patients from diseases.

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

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.

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

The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent that they must be supervised by a dentist, varies by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. Some states allow hygienists to independently diagnosis health problems and provide some treatments, such as application of fluorides and sealants.

Work Environment About this section

Dental hygienists
Dental hygienists discuss diet and other topics that affect a patient’s dental health.

Dental hygienists held about 200,500 jobs in 2014. Almost all dental hygienists worked in dentists’ offices in 2014. A small number of hygienists worked in other settings, including offices of physicians, outpatient clinics, and schools. Dental hygienists work closely with dentists.

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.

Work Schedules

About half of dental hygienists worked part time in 2014. 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

Dental hygienists
Dental hygienists remove tartar and plaque from teeth.

Dental hygienists 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.

Education

Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene are also 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 2015, 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 anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography, pathology, medical ethics, head and neck 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 have completed at least 1 year of college. Specific entrance requirements vary by school.

Important Qualities

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

Compassion. Some patients are in extreme pain or have fears about undergoing dental treatment, and the hygienist must be sensitive to their emotions.

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 is required for licensure. To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. For specific requirements, contact your state’s medical or health board.

Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Pay About this section

Dental Hygienists

Median annual wages, May 2015

Dental hygienists

$72,330

Health technologists and technicians

$42,190

Total, all occupations

$36,200

 

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,330 in May 2015. 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 $50,140, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,440.

Some dental hygienists receive benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and contributions to their retirement fund. However, benefits vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.

About half of dental hygienists worked part time in 2014. Dentists often hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.

Job Outlook About this section

Dental Hygienists

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Dental hygienists

19%

Health technologists and technicians

16%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to spur the demand for preventive dental services.

The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages, cosmetic dental services become increasingly popular, and access to health insurance continues to grow.

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

Cosmetic dental services, such as teeth-whitening treatments, have become increasingly popular. This trend is expected to continue as new technologies allow for less invasive, faster procedures.

The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. People with new or expanded dental insurance coverage will be more likely to visit an oral healthcare provider than in the past. As a result, the demand for all dental services, including those performed by hygienists, will increase.

Job Prospects

Although the demand for dental services is growing, the number of new graduates from dental hygiene programs also has increased, resulting in more competition for jobs. Candidates can expect very strong competition for most full-time hygienist positions. Job seekers with previous work experience should have the best job opportunities. In addition, new dental hygiene-based workforce models are emerging and may provide additional opportunities for dental hygienists.

Employment projections data for dental hygienists, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Dental hygienists

29-2021 200,500 237,900 19 37,400 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dental hygienists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Postsecondary nondegree award $35,980
Dentists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of the teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Doctoral or professional degree $158,310
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary nondegree award $30,590
Physician assistants

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.

Master's degree $98,180
Radiation therapists

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Associate's degree $80,220
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Bachelor's degree $67,490
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dental Hygienists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm (visited August 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

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How to Become One

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Pay

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State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's Career InfoNet.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

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Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.