How to Become a Dental Hygienist
Dental Hygienist Careers & Degrees

A dental hygienist provides assistance to a dentist in the care of their patients.

They will help to diagnose and treat diseases of the mouth, teeth and gums, along with providing education to patients on how to prevent this kind of disease in the future.

A dental hygienist will work both one on one with patients, and also in the presence of a dentist at times.

To succeed as a dental hygienist, you’ll need to have excellent time management skills, as your days will be hectic and you may often find yourself managing more than one client at a time.

You’ll also need a fine attention to detail, good hand-eye coordination, as well as manual dexterity.

Being good with people is also important, as you will spend a good amount of your time with clients.

Educational Requirements to Become a Dental Hygienist

If you’re in high school, you can start preparing for a career as a dental hygienist.

Taking subjects in math, biology, and English will be helpful.

A part time job or work experience in the medical sector will also be helpful in assisting your to gain experience.

To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete either a 2 year or 4 year degree in dental hygiene.

You can complete the two year program at a vocational school, or a 4 year program at a college.

If you want to work in a private dental clinic, then the two year associate degree program will be sufficient for you to practice as a dental hygienist.

The four year program will provide you with a much broader base of knowledge and skills, and will open the door to further opportunities late in your career, in dentistry, as well as research, public and school health, and administration.

After you complete your qualification, you will also need to be licensed within your state.

To do this you will need to pass a written exam.

Dental Hygienist Job Description

A dental hygienist will provide a range of services to clients to help with oral health.

They will never cut or remove teeth though, this can only be performed by a dentist.

They may examine a patient, and work with a dentist to provide a diagnosis.

They may clean teeth, and also help a dentist to perform more complicated procedures.

When you become a dental hygienist, you might also provided education and advice.

Hygienists may make recommendations to a client on how they can improve their oral health in the further, to prevent disease of the teeth and gums.

Here are some of the typical duties of a dental hygienist.

  • Greet clients
  • Prepare clients for an examination
  • Taking a history of clients health
  • Measuring blood pressure and heart rate
  • Examine and clean teeth
  • Consult with a dentist to provide diagnosis
  • Appointment setting
  • Assisting with procedures
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Complete, develop, and interpret X-Rays
  • Making mouth guards
  • Removing plaque and polishing teeth
  • Removing dressing and sutures after surgery

Dental Hygienist Salary and Career Path

Most dental hygienists will find employment in a private dentistry clinic after they gain their qualification.

Working conditions are good, and employment prospects strong.

Most receive medical and dental benefits, particularly those who work in the public sector.

With a bit of experience, you may be able to move across to the public sector, which offers better working conditions and salary.

When you first become a dental hygienist, you can expect to earn a salary of around $40,000 a year.

Those with more experience will earn closer to the median wage of $55,000.

The top dental hygienists can earn as much as $70,000 a year.

Dental hygienists who complete the four year Bachelor’s degree may find themselves with more responsibility and a higher salary.

They will also have greater opportunities to peruse careers in public health, administration, or research.

Some dental hygienists complete further study to take on more involved roles, such as that of a denture specialist.

If you have an interest in health, are great with people, and looking for a secure career then you might consider becoming a dental hygienist.

Working conditions are excellent, and a large salary is on offer.

There are also plenty of opportunities for those who want to take on further study and professional development.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$77,230
$53K
$64K
$77K
$91K
$103K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$48,090
Alaska$114,790
Arizona$84,300
Arkansas$67,410
California$106,240
Colorado$86,140
Connecticut$82,600
Delaware$83,470
District of Columbia$102,380
Florida$66,170
Georgia$65,590
Hawaii$83,430
Idaho$75,910
Illinois$72,050
Indiana$68,390
Iowa$70,600
Kansas$68,340
Kentucky$61,090
Louisiana$65,960
Maine$67,510
Maryland$86,940
Massachusetts$84,280
Michigan$65,610
Minnesota$75,570
Mississippi$56,150
Missouri$69,660
Montana$75,610
Nebraska$66,380
Nevada$85,560
New Hampshire$81,460
New Jersey$87,270
New Mexico$74,960
New York$76,960
North Carolina$70,750
North Dakota$72,550
Ohio$67,900
Oklahoma$75,990
Oregon$87,270
Pennsylvania$67,940
Rhode Island$75,330
South Carolina$63,710
South Dakota$66,840
Tennessee$67,690
Texas$76,490
Utah$69,320
Vermont$75,070
Virginia$79,370
Washington$93,200
West Virginia$60,340
Wisconsin$67,810
Wyoming$69,610
Guam$56,360

The top earning state in the field is Alaska, where the average salary is $114,790.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Alaska - $114,790
California - $106,240
District of Columbia - $102,380
Washington - $93,200
Oregon - $87,270
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Dental Hygienists, OCC Code 29-1292, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat is a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a dental professional who specializes in cleaning teeth, examining patients for problems, and providing preventive dental care.

They also educate their patients about oral health and teach them how to keep their teeth healthy.

A dental hygienist’s duties include removing tartar and stains, applying sealants to help protect teeth but also taking x-rays.

Dental hygienists also document patient care, assess their patient’s oral health and write reports for the dentists.

They use many different tools, such as ultrasonic tools, lasers, air-polishing device or x-ray machines.

The exact tasks a dental hygienist is allowed to perform varies state by state.

Dental hygienists need many skills, including critical thinking, dexterity, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.

QuestionHow much does a dental hygienist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for dental hygienists was $74,820 in May 2018.

Salaries for dental hygienists vary depending on a wide range of factors, including the hygienist’s level of experience, the region, and the employer.

Some earn less than $52,000 while others make more than $100,000 a year.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists typically hold an associate’s degree in dental hygiene and they must hold a state license in order to be able to practice.

Associate’s degree programs cost, on average, around $20,000 a year and can be completed in 3 years.

Dental hygiene programs include laboratory, clinical and classroom instruction in anatomy, medical ethics, and periodontics.

In order to become licensed, most states require candidates to possess a degree from an accredited program and to pass written and clinical exams.

QuestionWhat is the demand for dental hygienists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028.

The demand for dental hygienist’s services is expected to increase as the population ages.

However, since the number of tasks a dental hygienist is allowed to perform varies by state, so does the demand for their services.

Those who are willing to work in rural or underserved areas should have better job opportunities.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienists typically need to complete a 3-year associate’s degree program in dental hygiene and they also need a state license.

If you want to work in research, teaching, or clinical practice in public and school programs you will also need a bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require hygienists to complete a degree in dental hygiene from an accredited program and pass a written and a clinical exam.

To maintain your licensure you will also need to participate in continuing education classes.

Many employers also require dental hygienists to possess CPR certification.

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