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Dental Hygienist

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Overall Score
(7.7 out of 10)

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Median Salary


Unemployment Rate

2.8 percent

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Best Health Care Jobs #7
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A dentist’s responsibilities could include diagnosing and treating a patient’s dental problems, but a dental hygienist is concerned primarily with preventative care. He or she educates patients on the proper ways to brush and floss teeth and offers guidance on the best over-the-counter products to use when doing so. Usually, hygienists also remove the harder-to-clean gunk from our teeth and gums – such as 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 a hygienist’s advice and coaching. “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 and the past president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association.

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 private practices. Some choose to use their skills in research-focused occupations, or to go into clinical practice in a school or public health program. Employment for all types of dental hygienists will swell 33.3 percent by 2022, which is much faster than the average growth rate for most professions as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Hygienists make comfortable salaries, especially considering that many in this profession work part time. In 2012, their median salary was $70,210. The best-paid earned about $96,280 and the bottom 10 percent earned $46,540. 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 metropolitan areas include San Francisco, Vallejo, Calif., and Santa Rosa, Calif.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $84,570
Median $70,210
25th Percentile $58,130


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,” Quinones says. Following your formal education, it’s preferable to receive practical experience, like an internship, in a dental office. This way you’ll be better-versed on the job’s day-to-day responsibilities and challenges. Finally, you must receive licensure from the state in which you’d like to work.

Reviews & Advice

Working as a dental hygienist isn’t just about scraping plaque and giving fluoride treatments. Quinones says a good 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 in this economy, Quinones says, but securing one could open more possibilities for hygienists to advance in their field and earn more money. “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,” she says.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility poor Below Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility good High
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Last updated by Jada A. Graves.

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