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Dental Hygienist

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QUICK FACTS
Dental Hygienists
2010 Median Pay $68,250 per year
$32.81 per hour
Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2010 181,800
Job Outlook, 2010-20 38% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 68,500

What Dental Hygienists Do

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

Work Environment

Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists' offices. Hygienists work closely with dentists and dental assistants.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage of dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow by 38 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to spur the demand for preventative dental services, which are often provided by dental hygienists.


What Dental Hygienists Do

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.

Dental hygienists typically do the following:

Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with both hand and powered tools, as well as ultrasonic devices. In some cases, they remove stains with an air polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They polish teeth with a powered tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.

Dental hygienists help patients develop and keep good oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health. They also may give advice to patients on how to select toothbrushes and other oral-care devices.

Other tasks hygienists may perform vary by state. Some states allow hygienists to place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressings.


Work Environment

Dental hygienists held about 181,800 jobs in 2010. Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists' offices, which are clean and well-lit. They work closely with dentists and dental assistants. For more information, see the profiles on dentists and dental assistants.

Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. When taking x rays they follow strict procedures to protect themselves and patients. They may spend long periods of time bending over to work on patients.

Scheduling

Flexible scheduling is a distinctive feature of this job. More than one half of dental hygienists work part time. Dentists often hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist. About 38 percent of hygienists worked full time in 2010.


How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

Education

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene to enter the occupation. Certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees in dental hygiene are also available but are less common among dental hygienists. Private dental offices usually require a minimum of an associate's degree or certificate in dental hygiene. A bachelor's or master's degree is usually required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Some dental hygiene programs also require applicants to have completed at least one year of college. Specific entrance requirements vary from one school to another.

Most schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Hygienists study anatomy, physiology, nutrition, radiography, and periodontology, which is the study of gum disease.

Important Qualities

Licenses

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, licensure requires a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing written and practical examinations. For specific application requirements, contact your state's medical or health board.


Pay

The median annual wage of dental hygienists was $68,250 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,000, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,820.

Pay for dental hygienists may be for each hour worked, each day worked, on a regular yearly salary, or on commission. Some dental hygienists also get benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and contributions to their retirement fund. However, benefits vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.

Most dental hygienists work part time. About 38 percent of hygienists worked full time in 2010.


Job Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow by 38 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to spur the demand for preventative dental services, which dental hygienists often provide. New and increasingly accurate technologies to help diagnose oral health problems are also expected to increase demand. For example, new tests use saliva samples that a hygienist takes to spot early signs of oral cancer.

As their practices expand, dentists will hire more hygienists to perform routine dental care, allowing the dentist to see more patients. Also, as the large baby boomer population ages and people keep more of their original teeth than previous generations, the need to maintain and treat these teeth will continue to drive the need for hygienists' services.

Job Prospects

Demand for dental services follows the trends in the economy because the patient or private insurance companies pay for these services. As a result, during slow times in the economy, demand for dental services may decrease. During such times, dental hygienists may have difficulty finding employment or, if they are currently employed, they might work fewer hours.

Projected Employment by 2020

250,300 (38% growth from 2010)

 Search jobs for "Dental Hygienist"


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition

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