(7.7 out of 10)
|Number of Jobs:||68,500|
|This Job is Ranked in|
|Best Healthcare Jobs||#6|
|The 100 Best Jobs||#10|
Unlike dentists, whose responsibilities could include diagnosing and treating a patient’s dental problems, dental hygienists are primarily concerned with preventative care. They educate patients on the proper methods to brush and floss teeth, and offer guidance on the best over-the-counter products to use. Usually, they’re also the professionals that remove the harder-to-clean gunk from our teeth and gums—like tartar, stains, and plaque—when we go for a routine dentist visit. As dreaded as a trip to a dentist’s office can be, many of us may avoid the more invasive and painful dental procedures by following the advice and coaching of our hygienist. “When we see a patient’s health improve, we know we’ve done our job, and hopefully encouraged a lifetime of good health habits,” says Pam Quinones, a registered dental hygienist with more than 30 years of experience who serves as immediate past president of the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA).
Job responsibilities can vary slightly by state—for example, there are parts of the country where dental hygienists may place fillings—and not all in this profession work in a private practice. Some choose to use their skills in a research-focused occupation, or to go into clinical practice in a school or public-health program. Employment for all dental hygienists will swell nearly 40 percent by 2020, which is faster than the average growth rate for most professions. In 2010, there were 181,800 hygienists, and that number should increase by nearly 70,000 new positions.
Hygienists make a comfortable salary, especially considering that most of those in the profession work part-time. In 2011, their median salary was $69,280. The best-paid earned $94,850, and the bottom 10 percent earned $46,020. Many of the top-paid hygienists work in dentists’ offices, but outpatient care centers and ambulatory health care services also pay well. The profession’s best-paying metro areas include San Francisco, New Haven, Conn., and Vallejo, Calif.
Most in this profession have earned an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. And increasingly, students are pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees to further their career. “There’s even a movement to create a doctoral program for dental hygiene,” says ADHA President Pam Quinones. Following your formal education, it’s preferable to receive some practical experience (like an internship) in a dental office to become better-versed on the job’s day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. Finally, you must receive licensure from the state in which you’ll work.
Working as a dental hygienist isn’t just about scraping plaque and administering oral X-rays. Quinones says a strong work ethic, positive attitude, problem-solving skills, and strong communication skills will benefit someone hoping to enter the position. “Having a wide array of abilities and talents extends the reach of a dental hygiene degree, allowing access to fields outside of private dental practice,” she adds. “By the same token, most of these skills are developed better through experience, and they easily transfer into other arenas.”
Private practice jobs are a little harder to secure given the state of the economy, says Quinones. “However, this also … opens doors for anyone interested in utilizing their dental hygiene skills outside of dental offices,” she says. “Necessity breeds creativity, and this is a chance for dental hygienists to think outside the box, look at their skills, and apply them to a new career path.”
|Upward Mobility||Below Average|