Dentist offices offer employment opportunities in nearly every city. Responsible for everything from cleaning teeth to taking X-rays, dental hygienists are the smiling face of these offices. Hygienists understand how to wear the many hats of dental care and know that a smile is a strong qualification. Check out the pros and cons of pursuing a career as a dental hygienist to see if it is the right fit for you:
PRO: Growing Employment
The field of dental hygiene is displaying a projection of rapid growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employment of dental hygienists is projected to increase by 11% between 2018-2028—much faster than average.¹
The growing demand for dental hygienists is in part because of demographics. As the large baby boomer population ages, there is more need to care for teeth and other dental issues. Additionally, more people retain their teeth for much longer. According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, complete tooth loss has decreased by more than 75% for adults 65-74 over the past five decades.2
The BLS also suggests that the growing demand for dental services, including those performed by hygienists, will increase as the demand for preventative dental services rises.
CON: Lacking 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.
However, if you do decide to leave dental hygiene there are other career opportunities you can pursue. According to the American Dental Education Association, there are a number of careers you can do outside of a clinical dental setting. If you’re looking for what to do with a dental hygiene degree, jobs can include:3
- Pharmaceutical or Dental Supplies Sales
- Dental Office Manager
- Corporate Educator
- Dental Insurance Officer
- Hospital/Nursing Home Consultant
- Classroom, Clinical or Laboratory Instructor
- Local/State Dental Public Health Officer
- Community Clinic Administrator
You may also wonder can a dental hygienist become a dentist? For those who are interested in advancing their career in the dental field, becoming a dental hygienist may be a great first step to see if you’re interested. To become a dentist you will still have to acquire additional schooling including attending dental school.
PRO: The Average Dental Hygienist Salary
Dental hygienists are in demand and integral to every dentist’s office and often earn a decent wage. According to the BLS, the median national annual salary for a dental hygienist in May 2018 was $74,820 or $37.41 per hour.4 This varies depending upon location, experience, and whether you are a full-time or part-time employee.
Best states to be a dental hygienist
According to the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics, while a career as a dental hygienist is profitable across the country, there are some states that pay better than others.
The best states to be a dental hygienist are:5
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
CON: Can be Monotonous
As a dental hygienist, you will be mostly performing the same tasks every day. While each day you will see different patients and different teeth, you will still be operating the same exercises.
The main duties of a dental hygienist are:
- Performing preliminary exams on dental patients
- Cleaning teeth of plaque, tartar and stains
- Taking and develop dental x-rays
- Administering some medication such as local anesthetics
- Tracking and document care performed on patients and treatment plans
- Communicating patient information to dentists
- Educating patients on good oral hygiene practices, such as proper brushing technique and flossing
PRO: Schooling is Minimal
A dental hygienist career requires minimal schooling. Dental hygienist training requirements vary by state, but typically consist of:6
- An associates degree in dental hygiene from a community college or technical school
- State licensure
Because the education requirements are minimal, you can usually enter the career field quickly. Once you have gained the licensure for the state in which you plan to be employed, you can begin your path of employment in dental offices, community dental clinics, and public health agencies.
CON: Occasional Unpleasant Patients
Like many other customer-facing positions, your day will sometimes be impacted by unpleasant patients. You may expect an occasional, perhaps disagreeable, encounter. Since the job requires contact with a person’s hygiene, you may run into a patient with bad breath or tooth decay.
As a dental hygienist, you may want to consider brushing up on customer service skills. Dental hygienists often need to make small talk and keep patients comfortable during procedures. Some top customer service skills include:
- Good communication skills
PRO: Flexible Scheduling
If you need a profession with flexibility, you may appreciate dental hygiene. Often, dental hygienists have the option to work full-time or part-time. The BLS reports that about half of dental hygienists worked part-time in 2016.7 So, your schedule may be pliable if your employer allows it.
This ability to work part-time can mean more time with family, other obligations, or training, as well as the opportunity to work for more than one dental practice.
Kickstart Your Career in Dental Hygiene
If you want a strong career outlook, a steady average salary, and a flexible work environment, you may want to pursue dental hygiene as a career. For opportunities in this growing industry, it’s important to have a comprehensive education. For more information about Carrington College’s Dental Hygiene program, contact us.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Dental Hygienists, Job Outlook,’ September 15, 2019 – https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
2. Journal of American Dental Association, “Tooth loss among older adults according to poverty status in the United States from 1999 through 2004 and 2009 through 2014” —
3. American Dental Education Association, “Career Options,” September 25, 2019
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Dental Hygienists, Pay’ September 25, 2019 – https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-5
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics, Dental Hygienist,” September 25, 2019 —
6. American Dental Association, “Dental Hygienist Education and Training Requirements,” September 25, 2019 —
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Dental Hygienists, Work Environment,’ March 1, 2019 – https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-3