Dental Hygienists

What Dental Hygienists Do

Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeAtDfCQ0J4

Work Environment

Nearly all dental hygienists work in dentists’ offices, and many work part time.

How to Become 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.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental hygienists was $76,220 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health.

Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, such as gingivitis, and provide preventive care, including oral hygiene. They also educate patients about oral health.

Duties

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—including hand, power, and ultrasonic tools—in their work. 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 the setting in which the dental hygienist works. 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.

Dental hygienists held about 226,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of dental hygienists were as follows:

Offices of dentists 93%
Offices of physicians 1
Government 1

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.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dental hygienists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, keep records, and schedule appointments.

Postsecondary nondegree award $40,080

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with patients’ teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth.

Doctoral or professional degree $159,200

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, offices of physicians, and other healthcare facilities.

Postsecondary nondegree award $34,800

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.

Master’s degree $112,260

Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Associate’s degree $85,560

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic technologists perform diagnostic imaging examinations on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.

Associate’s degree $62,280

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor’s degree $73,300

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

The State Board of Dental Examiners in each state can provide information on licensing requirements.

CareerOneStop

For a career video on dental hygienists, visit

Dental Hygienists

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Dental Hygienists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm (visited ).