Dental hygiene is an in-demand career.Did you have a fascination with the tooth fairy as a child? Or always looked forward to going to the dentist? Then perhaps a career as a dental hygienist is right for you. Dental hygienists play an integral role in every dentist’s office, and are responsible for everything from cleaning teeth to taking x-rays and helping patients feel at ease. Check out the pros and cons of pursuing this profession:

PRO: Growing employment

The field of dental hygiene is growing rapidly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of dental hygienists is expected to increase by 38 percent between 2010 and 2020 – considerably faster than average.1 Plus, dental hygienists will always be in demand because people will always need their teeth to be cleaned!

CON: Not much career variety

While some degrees lend themselves to multiple career paths, a job as a dental hygienist is pretty much the same no matter where you decide to live or work. This consistency can be great, particularly if you love what you do, but if you’re looking for more variety, dental hygiene may not be right for you.

PRO: Great salary

Because dental hygienists are in such demand, you can earn a relatively good salary right away. The median annual pay for dental hygienists is $68,250 – or $32.81 per hour – according to BLS, and it can vary based upon experience and whether you are a full- or part-time employee.

CON: Can be repetitive

Dental hygienists have a specific role to play in dentist’s offices, and they will essentially be repeating the same tasks in the same environment every day. While your work may vary slightly between patients, you’ll mostly be cleaning teeth all day.

PRO: Minimal schooling

All you need to become a dental hygienist is an associate degree or certificate, so you can enter this in-demand career relatively quickly! Once you earn your licensure in the state in which you plan to work, you’ll be ready to begin your career as a dental hygienist.2

CON: Occasionally unpleasant patients

As you may expect, much of a dental hygienist’s job requires working with people’s mouths, and it’s possible that you will come into contact with the occasional patient who has bad breath, swollen gums or tooth decay.

PRO: Flexibility

Dental hygienists have the option of working full-or part-time, so your schedule may have some flexibility to it. Unlike some other careers, dental hygienists also generally don’t have to work nights, weekends or holidays.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Dental Hygienists,’ March 29, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
2 American Dental Hygienists’ Association, ‘Licensure,’ 2012 – https://www.adha.org/licensure

60 thoughts on “Pros and cons of being a dental hygienist

  1. Keaira

    Can the salary make a good living

      • Ann Wood

        I do not belive the statistics given here about dental hygiene being in the top 5 best jobs. I am a licenced dental hygienist in the state of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene from the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis, Tennessee. I am an older hygienist who has through circumstances of life have had to move various times and have found it very hard to find employment!!! I have not been able to find any employment whatsoever!!! It has been my experience, there are way too many dental hygienists out there with not enough jobs to provide them adequate employment. My state has way too many DH schools and is turning out dental hygienists left and right with no jobs for them to get after graduation. Also, I find most dentists do not want to hire an older hygienist even though I have good references and experience Sadly, I think they are too cheep to pay me what I am worth and would rather hire someone with less experience. Most really decent, honorable dentists already have loyal hygienists, who would not leave their practice for anything and I don’t blame them! I have also tried enrolling in a business who gave employment by being a substitute hygienist. This did not, by any means, provide enough work and income to survive on, even living modestly. Being thoroughly disappointed, I have given up totally on the dental hygiene field all together. I recommend by experience to anyone who is thinking of dental hygiene try becoming a dentist or nurse. You will save yourself a lot of misery because I have had my fill of it!

  2. Juan

    Is 72k enough to make it in life alone without anyone’s help? I want a career where I can make a living alone and won’t have to depend on people as much as being depended on.

    • Robin Blunck

      Hi Juan,

      Salary and making a living definitely depend on a person’s lifestyle; some people may be comfortable with a salary of much less while others could be unhappy making much more. It may help you to research and see how your lifestyle would stack up to different salaries to find what you would be comfortable at.

      However, the job site career builder conducted a survey and found most Americans would feel successful making 70,000 dollars a year, and other studies have found that Americans are happy with a salary of 75,000 dollars a year.

      You can read more here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/success-money_n_1608925.html and here: http://lifehacker.com/5632191/75000-is-the-perfect-salary-for-happiness

      • Ann

        I dint know any hygienist that makes anywhere near that amount of money! Maybe if they live in a state what’re the cost of living is higher…so pay is higher. But that just washes out if your cost of living is very high. Michigan hygienists might make 48-59k working full time

    • Maryanne Depalma

      Absolutely!!!!

    • ReallyReallyBigMan

      Depends where you live and how you spend. $22,000 could be enough for the right person in the right place.

  3. Lauren

    Trust me, now a days making just 60,000 a year is a very good salary. Especially if you are living alone, how much do you really need to survive. Don’t be greedy. You just need to budget.

    • ReallyReallyBigMan

      Forget living alone. I have kids and I’d feel rich if I made $60,000/year!

  4. Kekeletso Montsitsi

    Which one has the best salary between Oral Hygienist and Dental Therapist?

    Can I also open my own private practise if I’m an Oral Hygienist?

  5. Gabriel

    Im about to start Dental Hygienist school. But i saw some from saying that DH is not a good idea, i wont find a job, i will have to depend of the dentist for everything, i will have to work in different places to get hours working. im worried.

    • Shanice

      Not true, go on usajobs.gov , indeed, snagajob, monsterjobs.

  6. Monica

    That salary information is wrong! I’ve been a dental hygienist for ten years and on average, a full time, 32 hours per week, hygienist makes about 42,000$ per year. It’s a bad career choice with no way out. The statement that hygienists are in demand in also incorrect. In most of the southeastern states the market is saturated. Too many hygienists! Dentists won’t advertise job openings anymore because they get hit with so many applicants!

    • George Williams

      The hygiene profession has suffered from the effect of guaranteed student loans, just as every other business, trade, and profession.

      The availability of loan funding has caused RDH schools to mushroom. The training may be good, but with the resulting oversupply of graduates, the chances of becoming successful in hygiene are approaching the chances of becoming well off by being a professional athlete, going into acting, or taking up writing fiction.

      Add to that the fact that most dental HMO’s require that dental offices do hygiene for “no copay” (HMO speak for “free”) hygiene becomes very difficult. A hygienist is expected to produce 3 times as much in billing as she gets paid. It is rather hard to do this with the waiting room packed with patients anxious to get their nocopy cleanings.

      As a dentist, I have been in the situation of having an HMO patient tell me that I could make a lot of money if I would put in some extra hygiene rooms and hire some more hygienists, that I could “clean up” doing cleanings that his HMO has deliberately misled him into believing that it reimburses.

      The biggest complaint by patients these days is that they cannot get their teeth cleaned on any day but Wednesday, because the HMO practice they signed up with can barely stand the loss for one day.

      Going to hygiene school is better than going to acting school, but how much better remains to be seen.

    • KC

      What city/state do you work at?

    • annonymous

      not true for all areas. I live in a small town with lots of dental offices. the office I work at now we have hygienists working part time (24hr/week) and making $78,000/year. plus they get vacation time sick time holiday pay and yearly bonuses.

      • interested

        what region do you live in ?

    • Tina

      Yes! That true. There are too many hygienists now. I could not find a job anywhere in Iowa and Illinois. I had to move south to find anything. Dental hygienists are not high in demand.

      • Matt

        I live in Illinois and was thinking about becoming a DH but if you couldn’t find a job I might as well become a dentist.

  7. Monica

    Nursing would be a far better choice! There is growth opportunities and so many options with a nursing career. With a hygiene degree all you can do is work for a dentist. I’ve read all the Bologna about how we can work in hospitals or schools, etc…I see no actual positions?

    • No name

      There may be more opportunities for a nurse to get a job in a variety of locations but there is also a much higher risk of contracting an illness from your patients which can cause serious health problems for you.

      • ReallyReallyBigMan

        Nurses also suffer from much higher burnout rates.

    • Anonymous

      Nursing has it’s cons too you’ll be dealing with a whole lot of BS.

  8. Amarjeet Singh

    Hi. Monica. Thanks for input. Pl post if you are aware how to persue dentistry after DH for international students

  9. Mia

    I’m 17 years old and live I hawaii. I have just graduated High school, and am thinking about pursuing a career in the dental industry! But I’m not to sure about it, is hygienist a good job?

  10. Rice

    Don’t do hygiene! No jobs, no benefits, crazy employers. When you get older they will want younger and you will be out. The work will ruin your back, hands and is psychologically tolling. Dead end boring career. Sorry I wasted my time in it.

  11. George Williams

    The hygiene profession has suffered from the effect of guaranteed student loans, just as every other business, trade, and profession.

    The availability of loan funding has caused RDH schools to mushroom. The training may be good, but with the resulting oversupply of graduates, the chances of becoming successful in hygiene are approaching the chances of becoming well off by being a professional athlete, going into acting, or taking up writi.g fiction.

    Add to that the fact that most dental HMO’s require that dental offices do hygiene for “no copay” (HMO speak for “free”) hygiene becomes very difficult. A hygienist is expected to produce 3 times as much in billing as she gets paid. It is rather hard to do this with the waiting room packed with patients anxious to get their nocopy cleanings.

    As a dentist, I have been in the situation of having an HMO patient tell me that I could make a lot of money if I would put in some extra hygiene rooms and hire some more hygienists, that I could “clean up” doing cleanings that his HMO has deliberately misled him into believing that it reimburses.

    Thebiggest complaint by patients these dys is that they cannot get their teeth cleaned on any day but Wednesday, because the HMO practice they signed up with can barely stand the loss for one day.

    Going to hygiene school is better than going to acting school, but how much better remains to be seen.

  12. karen

    whats is better to be become a Dental assistant or dental hygienist? then slowly build up to be a dentist?

  13. Jessica

    Would dental hygiene be a good career while still pursuing another. I was thinking that I could do DH since its short & then use that to work and pay through another career…I don’t know may be dental school?

    • Lydia

      Yes! I truly enjoy being a DH. And despite the fears listed throughout here, I have had no issues finding a job. Be professional, positive, and polite and you’ll be fine.
      That said, I was working full time and making a solid salary, but I went into hygiene with the same idea you have. I am in school again and working two days a week. I actually got a raise switching to part time (2days/week) (lost my benefits though – something to consider), but am making almost the same salary as I was working full time.

      I love not having to work all week if I don’t want to…Truthfully I’d recommend that a hygienist NOT work full time if they are financially able… It’s a great job but it can definitely wear you out if you have a full day with a lot of pts.

  14. Isioma

    Hi Monica thanks for your input, is been a dental assistant better off than been a dental hygienist

  15. I need to be informed

    Hi, I am currently a high school student who is interested in pursuing the career of a dental hygienist. I wanted to know if there are any health benefits with this career for example retirement benefits, paid vacations, medical benefits ect..?

    • Vicky

      It depends on if you work for an independent or corporate office. Most independent offices offer no benefits while corporate offices offer benefits vacations 401k so on and so on

  16. Cindi

    Don’t let a high salary after 2 yrs of training convince you to become a dental hygienist. As others have said, it is monotonous, leaves you with neck/wrist damage, and doesn’t provide transferable skills to another career. Appt times are getting shorter, so one must cut corners to “complete” procedures. I regret my decision to become an hygienist.

  17. william

    Hi, i’m currently in high school and thinking about being a dental hygienist. i was just wondering if its a good decision or not.

  18. Aisha

    Hi, I’ve been a dental hygienist for almost 9 years and even though I’m currently in the midst of re-negotiating my pay and benefits with my employer, I have been very satisfied with my career overall. I did start out working for different offices but as of the last 6 years or so I’m only at one office and sometimes get calls to sub for another office (for a hygienist on vacation or something). I live in California and my lowest annual income was $68K and that was for working about 3 days a week. Last year I worked 4 days a week and made almost $89K. As a single parent of a daughter about to go off to college I can honestly say it is a great career if you want to be on your own two feet. I get 3 days of sick pay, 4 days of vacation and profit sharing. I was offered medical but it was too expensive so I got my own individual plans. Every career has it’s trade offs, burn outs, complaints and aches and pains but I would pick this one all over again if given the choice.

  19. Jose

    Hi my name is Jose. I really want a career in Dental hygiene, but I’m concerned that It may be a bad choice since most hygienist are female. Would it be a good idea to follow that path or should I look somewhere else? Is it okay if a hygienist is male?

  20. brooklyn firestone

    Hello everyone, i am a junior in highschool and i have been interested in becoming a dental hygienist for a while now, i’ve been debating being a flight attendant or a dental hygenist. but reading these negative comments are making me wonder if i should re-evaluate my decision! i have always enjoyed going to the dentist as a child. flying in airplanes for a career and not coming home at the end of every day just doesn’t fit me! i’m more interested in an easy going job that won’t put me completely on my a** at the end of the day with enough cash to support myself. as a little girl i’ve dreamed of having a career such as this, and i don’t like hearing it can be a huge mistake! if somebody could tell me what schooling i must go through, and if being a dental hygenist is a good choice for a girl like me.
    thanks!

    • Hi Brooklyn! If you have that desire to become a dental hygienist, we would love to help prepare you for that career. Every job will have its own ups and downs, but we’re sure you will thrive and be successful wherever you end up! You can learn more about our Dental Hygiene program at http://carrington.edu/degrees/dental-hygiene/. Please give us a call at 1-855-289-2171 so we can answer any questions you have.

  21. Luba

    Hello I am in my first semester of dental hygiene school. I am 31 years old with a prior college degree. It is not like the normal college experience at all. Very stressful program and very intensive. The skill is very hard to learn and you either have it or you don’t. It can be frustrating at times. It is not easy, you will earn your money in this profession. And hard to leaen and practive on live patients. The money attracted me, at first I didn’t know what I’ve gotten myself into when I saw how difficult this program is, but it is kind of growing on me. .. Still not sure if I will make it through.

    • We know you can do it Luba! Your hard work and dedication will be worth the effort 😊

  22. esmeralda

    I agree with you exactly Luba! First semester of it and it is so different than regular school. I feel the exact same way as you but I hope, like you, that I will be able to pass! Good luck!

  23. Angie

    I am currently going to school to get my associates degree. I have apply to a dental hygiene program but may take up to two years to get into, is it work the wait? Or any other care error suggestions, I am a single mom and need something with good hours!

    • Hi Angie! If you have that desire to become a dental hygienist, we would love to help prepare you for that career. Every job will have its own ups and downs, but we’re sure you will thrive and be successful wherever you end up! You can learn more about our Dental Hygiene program at http://carrington.edu/degrees/dental-hygiene/. Please give us a call at 1-855-289-2171 so we can answer any questions you have.

  24. Angie

    Is being a dental hygienst hard??

    • Emilie

      I’m not a dental hygienist but from what I gather, there is A LOT of memorizing involved and you’re basically becoming a tooth doctor, learning about the science of the tooth along with studies of different cancers that are often seen in different patients… I believe that going full time in dental hygiene in college will be too much to cram in just 2 years which is why I’m considering going for lesser credits a semester and making the goal for 3 years. They say for every hour in a college class, count on having 3 hours of homework! Go for three years because it’ll allow you to take things in a little slower and you’ll be better prepared for your future job!! Go for it!

    • Lydia

      Being a hygienist….has it’s tough days and easy days. LEARNING to become a hygienist is actually one of the most difficult programs you can go through – not in a stuck up way, but I have always been in honors courses throughout highschool and college, and studied 3 years for a double major before discovering and switching into hygiene. It is no joke – at least the program I was in. They only accepted 3.8GPA or higher and required pre-reqs.

      If you get in and get through, you’ll be set though. The “real world” isn’t too difficult overall…In fact, one of the negatives of DH is that it can be rather repetitive. Learning how to present information to patients can allow you to express some creativity, being observant and applying knowledge of diseases and conditions can help you stay sharp…but….ultimately it is pretty similar day to day. Another note….as far as being an “easy” job, the skill set tends to remain the same every day, but you are doing physical labor possibly 8+ hours a day. That can definitely be difficult.

  25. Emilie

    I want to become a dental hygienist but what I’m most worried about is after i finish up my 2 years of college, if I’ll be able to get hired! Or if they’ll allow me to work full time in just one office. I am a single mother and I am graduating at 17. I guess I’m worried about whether or not I’ll be allowed in one office and if my hours will make me at least 50,000 annually like the internet says it will.

  26. Emily

    I’m in 8th grade and I know its very early to be choosing my career but I thought being a hygienist would be really fun and not too much college plus I love going to get my teeth cleaned. it seems like I would have enough to support myself and later in life a family and like I said I know its real early to figure out but I’m wondering if is a good choice or not?

    • We love that you’re thinking of your future career so early, Emily! If teeth and dental work are something you enjoy and have a passion for, a career in dental hygiene could be a great choice for you. Every job will have pros and cons, like this article mentions, but don’t let that stop you from achieving your dream career!

  27. Cool college girl

    I want to be a Dentist, but I am unsure which one is better Dental Hygienist or Dentist? Please help

  28. Olivia

    So the article had me feeling confident in my decision to be a dental assistant then working my way up to a dental hygienist, but all of these negative comments are starting to make me re-evaluate my choice. Is dental school really as hard as everyone’s making it out to be? Is it really that hard to find a job in this industry? I’m so unsure now and I’m not used to that. Someone please help!!

    • alexis

      This is what happened to me as well, sounded great at first but then all of these people are saying that they regret their choice of becoming a Dh. But then again, I’m sure every occupation will have the same type of opinions about it.

  29. Isabel

    What attracts me to a career in dental hygiene is:
    1. The annual median income of about $70,000 according to LBS
    2. Schooling is a shorter amount of time (versus a longer amount of time required to become a dentist or equine dentist) and less debt
    3. The hours/flexibility
    4. Job outlook (especially in my home state of Texas) I am willing to relocate to any part of Texas or across the country for my job if need be. (I have already moved across the ccountry because one of my parents had a job opportunity).
    As a high school student, however, I still have a couple of concerns. Would it be a good idea to go to dental school and enter this field if you’ve never liked math? How math heavy or not math heavy would the courses be? Also, what is the job satisfaction for most dental hygienists? (I can imagine working in people’s mouths isn’t always exactly what one might consider to be glamorous!)
    Thanks.

  30. Tef

    Hi ! Do you recommend dental assistant or dental hygienist?

Join the conversation