Dental Hygienists

Career, Salary and Education Information

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a dental hygienist with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Dental Hygienist Jobs

  • Registered Dental Hygienist - DAF - Frederick, MD

    Please forward your resume and include salary requirements and references. We have an outstanding professional team who enjoys working together to

  • Dental Hygienist - Sutter Dental - San Francisco, CA

    A registered dental hygienist implements appropriate standard of care therapy, assists a dentist in providing hygiene, periodontal or dental care and

  • Dental Hygienist - Correct Care Solutions - Lawton, OK

    Delivers direct patient care to patients as assigned, using established dental hygienist procedures; performs routine treatment procedures, such as

See all Dental Hygienist jobs

What Dental Hygienists Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists typically do the following:

  • Remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • Apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth
  • Take and develop dental x rays
  • Assess patients' oral health and report findings to dentists
  • Document patient care and treatment plans
  • Educate patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as how to brush and floss correctly

Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists 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. Some states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to work with an expanded scope of practice.

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

The tasks hygienists may perform, and the extent to which they must be supervised by a dentist, vary by state and by the setting in which the dental hygienist works. For example, some states allow hygienists to diagnose certain health problems independently of a dentist.

Work Environment for Dental Hygienists[About this section] [To Top]

Dental hygienists hold about 207,900 jobs. The largest employers of dental hygienists are as follows:

Offices of dentists 95%
Government 1
Offices of physicians 1

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 from radiation.

Dental Hygienist Work Schedules

About 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.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Dental Hygienists near you!

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Programs typically take 3 years to complete. All states require dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state.

Education for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor's and master's degree programs in dental hygiene also are available, but are less common. A bachelor's or master's degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Dental hygiene programs are commonly found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. In 2017, the Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, accredited more than 300 dental hygiene programs.

Programs typically take 3 years to complete, and offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction. Areas of study include physiology, nutrition, radiography, pathology, medical ethics, anatomy, patient management, and periodontics, which is the study of gum disease.

High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Most dental hygiene programs also require applicants to complete prerequisites, which often include college-level courses. Specific requirements vary by school.

Important Qualities for Dental Hygienists

Critical thinking. Dental hygienists must use critical thinking skills in order to assess and evaluate patients.

Communication skills. Dental hygienists must accurately communicate with dentists and patients about oral health status, oral hygiene care plans, and, as needed, lifestyle counseling.

Detail oriented. Dental hygienists must follow specific rules and protocols to help dentists diagnose and treat a patient. Depending on the state in which they work and/or the treatment provided, dental hygienists may work without the direct supervision of a dentist.

Dexterity. Dental hygienists must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, requiring fine motor skills using very precise tools and instruments.

Interpersonal skills. Dental hygienists must work closely with dentists and patients. Some patients are in extreme pain or have fears about undergoing dental treatment, and the hygienist must be sensitive to their emotions.

Problem-solving skills. Dental hygienists develop and implement oral hygiene care plans to maintain or improve patients' oral health.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Dental Hygienists

Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed; requirements vary by state. In most states, a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing grades on written and clinical examinations are required for licensure. To maintain licensure, hygienists must complete continuing education requirements. For specific requirements, contact your state's Board of Dental Examiners.

Many jobs also require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.

Dental Hygienist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for dental hygienists is $72,910. 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 $50,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,170.

The median annual wages for dental hygienists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Offices of dentists $73,190
Offices of physicians 69,410
Government 57,790

Benefits, such as vacation, sick leave, and retirement contributions vary by employer and may be available only to full-time workers.

About 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.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 20 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages. As the large baby-boom population ages and people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to drive demand for dental care.

Studies linking oral health and general health, and efforts to expand access to oral hygiene services, will continue to drive the demand for preventive dental services. As a result, the demand for all dental services, including those performed by hygienists, will increase. In addition, demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow as state laws increasingly allow dental hygienists to work at the top of their training, and they effectively become more productive.

Job Prospects for Dental Hygienists

Although the demand for dental services is growing, the number of new graduates from dental hygiene programs also has increased, resulting in more competition for jobs. Candidates can expect very strong competition for most full-time hygienist positions. Job seekers with previous work experience should have the best job opportunities.

There are areas in the United States, typically rural areas, where patients need dental care but have little access to it. Job prospects will be especially good for dental hygienists who are willing to work in these areas.

Employment projections data for Dental Hygienists, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Dental hygienists 207,900 248,800 20 40,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

Explore more careers: View all Careers or Browse Careers by Category

Search for jobs: