Job Universe: Dental Hygienist

Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 30 percent through 2016.

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  • The job: Dental hygienists remove soft and hard deposits from teeth, teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene, and provide other preventive dental care. They examine patients' teeth and gums, recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities. Hygienists sometimes make a diagnosis and other times may prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret. Hygienists sometimes work chair side with the dentist during treatment.
  • Outlook: Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 30 percent through 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand for dental care and the greater use of hygienists.
  • Experience: Prospective dental hygienists must become licensed in the state in which they wish to practice. A degree from an accredited dental hygiene school is usually required along with licensure examinations. Most dental hygiene programs grant an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate, a bachelor's degree, or a master's degree.
  • The not-so-good: Dentists frequently hire hygienists to work only two or three days a week, so hygienists may hold jobs in more than one dental office. More than half of all dental hygienists work part time—less than 35 hours a week. Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment.
  • Pay: Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $30.19 in May 2006. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis.

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This information is from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.