Dental Hygienists: Career Guide & Salary Facts

Learn more about careers as dental hygienists. Find information on career opportunities, duties and task, educational requirements, licensure, and salary information. View popular dental schools that prepare students for careers as dental hygienists.

Duties & Tasks

Dental hygienists clean teeth and examine oral areas, and they educate patients on oral care and hygiene. They may work closely with dentists, where they assist with taking and developing x-ray film and apply fluoride and sealants to patients’ teeth. Dental hygienists may also partake in administrative skills, where they record and review patient medical histories and chart decay and disease conditions of teeth. To check oral disease, they may feel and visually inspect gums and feel lymph nodes under patients’ chin for sores and signs of potential disease. They may help patients maintain good oral health by explaining the relationship between diet and oral health. Depending upon the state, dental hygienists may place and carve filling materials, periodontal dressings, and temporary fillings.

Education Requirements

Most dental hygienists need to posses at least an associate degree in dental hygiene to enter this profession. The associate-level programs may offer students clinical, laboratory, and classroom instruction, allowing them to gain hands-on experience. Although schools may offer a certificate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in dental hygiene, these degrees are not as common. Dental offices typically ask applicants to have an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene. For those individuals pursuing research, teaching, or clinical jobs, they may require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Certification & Licensure

In order to work as a dental hygienist, individuals must have licensure, although the requirements vary by state. Most states require individuals to obtain a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program as well as pass a written and practical exam. The American Dental Association’s Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the written exam, while states and regional testing facilities administer the practical exam.

Salary & Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for those pursuing careers as dental hygienists are expected to increase by 38% from 2010-2020, which is much higher than the national average. This increase may be due to ongoing research linking oral and general health together as well as a demand for preventative dental services. However, overall demand for dental hygienists may fluctuate due to the economy as more people may seek dental treatment when they can pay for the services. The BLS also reported as of May 2010 that the median annual salary of dental hygienists was $68,250, while the median hourly salary was $32.81 during the same time.

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