Summary

Please enable javascript to play this video.

Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeAtDfCQ0J4.
Quick Facts: Dental Hygienists
2016 Median Pay $72,910 per year
$35.05 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 207,900
Job Outlook, 2016-26 20% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 40,900

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 2016, almost all dental hygienists worked in dentists’ offices, and more than half worked part time.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,910 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

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. 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 About this section

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

Dental hygienists held about 207,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of dental hygienists were as follows:

Offices of dentists 95%
Government 1
Offices of physicians 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.

Work Schedules

About half of dental hygienists worked part time in 2016. 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 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.

Education

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

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

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.

Pay About this section

Dental Hygienists

Median annual wages, May 2016

Dental hygienists

$72,910

Health technologists and technicians

$42,750

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $72,910 in May 2016. 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 $50,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,170.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for dental hygienists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of dentists $73,190
Offices of physicians 69,410
Government 57,790

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

About half of dental hygienists worked part time in 2016. 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 2016-26

Dental hygienists

20%

Health technologists and technicians

14%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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

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.

There are areas in the United States, typically rural areas, where patients need dental care but have little access to it. Job prospects will be especially good for dental hygienists who are willing to work in these areas.

Employment projections data for dental hygienists, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Dental hygienists

29-2021 207,900 248,800 20 40,900 employment projections excel document 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.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop 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 2016 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 $36,940
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 $159,770
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 $31,540
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 $101,480
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.
Radiation therapists

Radiation Therapists

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

Associate's degree $80,160
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 $68,450

Contacts for More Information About this section

For information about educational requirements and available accredited programs for dental hygienists, visit

American Dental Hygienists’ Association

For information about accredited programs and educational requirements, visit

Commission on Dental Accreditation, American Dental Association

The State Board of Dental Examiners in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.

CareerOneStop

For a career video on dental hygienists, visit

Dental Hygienists

O*NET

Dental Hygienists

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm (visited November 15, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2017

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

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

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 CareerOneStop.

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

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

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).

2016 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 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

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, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

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 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 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 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.