Learn about dental hygiene

About Dental hygiene

Think of a dental hygienist as an insurance agent. “You see dentists when you have a problem, ” says Kelli Swanson Jaecks, president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association. “But you see dental hygienists for preventative health care.”

The majority of the 183, 000-plus registered dental hygienists work in dental offices alongside dentists. They will usually see a patient first and clean the patient’s teeth, removing tartar, stains and plaque as they brush, floss and scrape. Dental hygienists are also involved in educating patients on the best ways to brush and floss teeth, as well as which products to use. Along with their technical skills, dental hygienists should be excellent communicators. “The client’s head is in their lap basically, ” Swanson Jaecks says. “They should know how to read a client and relate to a client.” She also says good hand-eye coordination is a must, as are critical-thinking skills, since dental hygienists are on the front lines of assessing a client’s oral health.

The job market for dental hygienists is booming. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupation will grow 19 percent by 2024, which is much faster than the average growth rate for most professions. This swell in jobs is likely due to the increased awareness among consumers of how oral health is linked to their overall health.

“More and more dental hygienists will be hired to do this preventative health care, ” but Swanson Jaecks says that physicians’ offices, emergency rooms and medical clinics are increasingly hiring dental hygienists to provide their patients with more holistic health care. These professionals can also be hired in academia and in research.


Hygienists make comfortable salaries, especially considering that half of them work part-time. In 2014, their median salary was $71, 520. The best-paid earned about $97, 390, and the bottom 10 percent earned $49, 190. The state of California tends to compensate their dental hygienists particularly well, especially in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Sacramento.

75th Percentile: $85, 240

Median: $71, 520

25th Percentile: $59, 890

How much do Dental Hygienists make in your city?

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According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, there are more than 330 dental hygiene programs offered in the U.S. Most hygienists have at least an associate degree, but some get bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene – and even master’s degrees to further their careers. To practice, dental hygienists also have to obtain a state-specific license. Although the requirements vary state-to-state, most require graduation from an accredited program and the completion of a written and practical exam.

Many of the courses you take in a dental hygiene program will be applicable for a dental program, and the training and experience could help when sitting for the Dental Acceptance Test to gain admission to dental school. But working as a dental hygienist isn’t a shortcut to becoming a dentist. Hygienists who choose to pursue a D.D.S will still have the same length of study plus years of residency, even if they have a professional background in dentistry.

Job Satisfaction

Average Americans work well into their 60s, so workers might as well have a job that’s enjoyable and a career that's fulfilling. A job with a low stress level, good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted and earn a higher salary would make many employees happy. Here's how this job's satisfaction is rated in terms of upward mobility, stress level and flexibility.

Upward Mobility: Below Average
Opportunities for advancements and salary

Stress Level: Average
Work environment and complexities of the job's responsibilities

Flexibility: High
Alternative working schedule and work life balance

Advice From Real Dental Hygienists »

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