A dental hygienist helps patients
Career Paths | ISFJ | Social Occupations

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Hygienist? Salary, Duties and More

A dental hygienist cleans teeth, examines patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. He or she also educate patients about oral health.

How long does it take to become one? An associate’s degree in a dental hygiene program is required and takes about 3 years to earn.

This career is a social occupation that works with traditional tools and solutions of the profession. It’s a good fit for an ISFJ personality type, who wants to work with people, but doesn’t want to have a deep involvement in their lives.

What Exactly Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

They perform the following tasks:

  • 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

They 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 power tool that works like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists also use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems.

Dental hygienists talk to patients about ways to keep their teeth and gums healthy. For example, they may explain the relationship between diet and oral health.

They may also advise 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 where they work.

A few states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to provide some restorative services, such as extracting primary teeth and placing temporary crowns.

Where Do Hygienists Work? In Dental Offices

Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists offices

Dental hygienists held about 221,560 jobs in 2019.

Dental hygienists wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases.

When taking x rays, they follow procedures to protect themselves and patients from radiation.

Work Schedules

Many dental hygienists work part-time.

Dentists may hire hygienists to work only a few days a week, so some hygienists work for more than one dentist.

Education Needed to be a Dental Hygienist

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

You typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene; You may also get a bachelor’s degree.

Master’s degree programs in dental hygiene are available but uncommon. 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 often found in community colleges, technical schools, and universities. The Commission on Dental Accreditation, part of the American Dental Association, accredits more than 300 dental hygiene programs.

Find an Accredited Dental Hygienist Program in Your State

How Long Does It Take to Become One?

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

High school students interested in becoming dental hygienists should take courses in:

  • biology
  • chemistry
  • math

Most dental hygiene programs also require applicants to complete prerequisites, which often include college-level courses. Specific requirements vary by school.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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 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.

Is This a Good Job Fit for You?


A Dental Hygienist is a Good Job Fit For

O*NET Interest Profiler Results

If your O-NET Interest Profiler results listed social as the primary interest, realistic second and conventional third, a job as a dental hygienist could be a good match. See other social jobs.

You can learn more about the free career test here. 


According to O*NET Interest Profiler categories, social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. 

These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others. As a dental hygienist you would be working with and teaching people how to take care of their oral health.


The job falls into a secondary interest of realistic.

Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These

Realistic occupations involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.


Finally, this career gives people a sense of tradition. Conventional occupations frequently involve following set procedures and routines.

These occupations can include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually, there is a clear line of authority to follow.

16 Personalities Match 


If your Meyers-Briggs personality type is ISFJ, a dental hygienist job is a must-have on your list of possible occupations. As an ISFJ you love helping people but don’t want to get involved with them on an emotional level. 

ISFJs enjoy being around people, so helping people learn to take care of their teeth and addressing concerns can be a rewarding line of work. 

Don’t know your personality type? You can take a free personality test at 16Personalities.

How Much Does a Dental Hygienist Make?

Half of all dental hygienists in the U.S. made more than $76,220 in May 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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 $53,130, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $103,340.

These are the median salaries for dental hygienists for all 50 states and U.S. territories as of May 2019.

Annual Salary
District of Columbia**104,500
New Jersey6,79089,930
New Hampshire1,51080,620
Rhode Island1,10074,710
North Dakota60072,270
New York11,62077,790
North Carolina7,09071,450
South Dakota55068,800
South Carolina3,24062,530
West Virginia1,05058,450
New Mexico1,18078,120

Dental Hygienist Jobs are on the Rise

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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.

More Resources

For information about educational requirements and available accredited programs for dental hygienists, visit

American Dental Hygienists’ Association

For information about accredited programs and educational requirements, visit

Commission on Dental Accreditation, American Dental Association

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