Dental hygienists promote dental health by cleaning patient’s teeth and providing education on oral hygiene. With a thriving job market and excellent career outlook over coming years, now’s a great time to enter the profession. Ever wondered how much a dental hygienist makes? Or how to become one? Look no further, as this article explains the average salary of a dental hygienist, their key responsibilities, typical work environments and career paths.
Dental Hygienist Salary
What is the salary of a dental hygienist? According the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary in 2012 was $71,970. The top 10% of earners made $97,390 per annum, whilst the average income for the lowest 10% was $49,190 per year.
A number of factors influence annual income. Wages increase slightly with job experience. Starting salaries are $49,190. Where you work also impacts potential earnings. Those employed in metropolitan areas generally earn more than those in rural settings. Consequently, the top 5 paying states are District of Columbia, California, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.
Benefit packages vary depending on employer. Generally, these are offered exclusively to full-time employees, and include health care, retirement plans and paid leave.
Dental hygienists perform a variety of preventative and restorative procedures to improve patient’s dental health, usually under direction from a licensed dentist.
Prior to appointments, medical and dental records must be reviewed for each patient, giving hygienists an idea of what treatment may be required. Examination rooms need cleaned and prepared before treating patients. This involves general cleaning as well as laying out relevant instruments. It’s important for hygienists to have strong people skills, as they will often deal with patients that are very nervous. Before beginning treatment, they ensure patients are comfortable and relaxed.
Dental care given depends on hygienist’s observations of their patient. They will survey client’s teeth, gums and mouth tissues, looking for signs of decay or disease. Based on their findings, treatment may be needed, which can range from stain removal to more complex procedures, such as applying sealants to prevent cavities. X-ray scans may also be performed as well as screenings for oral cancer. It’s important to note that hygienists are not qualified to make the same diagnostic decisions as dentists, and thus their scope of treatment is limited.
They also carry out administrative duties such as stock taking, record filing and ordering supplies. Additionally, hygienist’s support dentist’s in dealing with emergencies by maintaining CPR certification.
The vast majority of dental hygienists work in dentist’s offices and clinics. All work settings are sterile, well-lit environments, and are typically in modern buildings. Working hours vary; over half of professionals worked part time in 2012 due to dentists only needing their services for a few days per week. That said, many work 40 hour work weeks by holding jobs at multiple dental clinics. Typical days begin about an hour and a half before the first scheduled appointment to allow time for treatment room preparation and reviewing medical histories.
Dental hygienists enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling career. In a survey conducted by PayScale, the profession was voted 5/5 for job satisfaction. Findings of a study investigating hygienists’ attitude towards their careers also agreed, but noted that the job was not without downsides. Work environments were described as “motivating and facilitating but at the same time trying”. Good relationships with co-workers and patients, seeing results of your work and making your own decisions were mentioned as positive aspects. Trying factors included stress from treating patients during appointments scheduled too short.
How to become a Dental Hygienist
All dental hygienists must be licensed by state. To obtain licensure, one must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination after graduating from an accredited dental hygiene degree program, which are offered by community colleges, vocational schools and universities.
Entering the profession typically involves attaining a 2 year Associate’s degree. Bachelor and Master’s degrees give applicants a competitive edge over other dental program graduates, as well as granting access to research and teaching positions. During degree programs, students take courses such as anatomy, physiology, immunology and pharmacology, as well as learning patient handling procedures. Studies also have practical components, allowing students to practice their clinical skills. Prospective hygienists should have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as a solid background in biology, chemistry and mathematics.
Upon graduation, graduates must pass national exams before becoming a licensed professional. The exam assesses candidates’ knowledge of dental science as well as testing their competency in diagnosing real conditions using photographic evidence from case studies. In addition to national examinations, hygienists may be required to sit regional state exams which test their practical skills.
Dental hygienists are enjoying a boom in demand, and should continue to do so over the next decade. The BLS expects employment opportunities to grow by 33% in the 2012-2022 projection period, which is much faster than average.
Demand for hygienists is driven by a number of factors. As links between oral health and general well-being continue to emerge, demand for preventative dental care increases. Also, with rising levels of oral hygiene awareness, the large baby-boom population is keeping more teeth than past generations. Thus, more dental services are needed throughout people’s lifetimes, fueling demand for dental hygienists.
As with all health-related professions, employment prospects are particularly sensitive to current health-care legislation. With government health spending expected to rise, more people will have access to health care, and thus more likely to use dental services.
Dentists perform a wide variety of dental treatments to improve the oral health of their patients. With extensive knowledge of oral diseases and conditions, they diagnose clients and treat them accordingly. Becoming a dentist involves graduating from dental school, then passing the licensing exam. Dentists can specialize in a number of areas, all of which require further education, such as orthodontics or oral pharmacology. According to BLS, the average pay for dentists was $149,310 in 2012.
Doctors examine, diagnose and treat the general public. After reading medical histories, they evaluate patients and identify health conditions. A treatment plan is designed, often including prescription medication, with the aim of curing the patient. Becoming a medical doctor is a lengthy process, taking up to 16 years from the start of college, which typically consists of obtaining a 4-year Bachelor degree, spending 4 years in medical school, plus 2-4 years in residency, then finally 2-4 years in a fellowship program to enter a specialized field. Due to the taxing career entry path, medical doctors are among the highest paid professions, earning an average of $187,000 per year (BLS).