- Most dental hygiene programs grant an associate degree; others
offer a certificate, a bachelorís degree, or a masterís degree.
- Dental hygienists rank among the fastest growing occupations.
- Job prospects are expected to remain excellent.
- More than half work part time, and flexible scheduling is
a distinctive feature of this job.
Dental hygienists remove soft and hard deposits from teeth, teach
patients how to practice good oral hygiene, and provide other
preventive dental care. Hygienists examine patientsí teeth and
gums, recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities. They
remove calculus, stains, and plaque from teeth; perform root planing
as a periodontal therapy; take and develop dental x rays; and
apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and pit and fissure
sealants. In some States, hygienists administer anesthetics; place
and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal
dressings; remove sutures; and smooth and polish metal restorations.
Although hygienists may not diagnose diseases, they can prepare
clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret.
Hygienists sometimes work chairside with the dentist during treatment.
Dental hygienists also help patients develop and maintain good
oral health. For example, they may explain the relationship between
diet and oral health or inform patients how to select toothbrushes
and show them how to brush and floss their teeth.
Dental hygienists use hand and rotary instruments and ultrasonics
to clean and polish teeth, x-ray machines to take dental pictures,
syringes with needles to administer local anesthetics, and models
of teeth to explain oral hygiene.
Flexible scheduling is a distinctive feature of this job. Full-time,
part-time, evening, and weekend schedules are widely available.
Dentists frequently hire hygienists to work only 2 or 3 days a
week, so hygienists may hold jobs in more than one dental office.
Dental hygienists work in clean, well-lighted offices. Important
health safeguards include strict adherence to proper radiological
procedures, and the use of appropriate protective devices when
administering anesthetic gas. Dental hygienists also wear safety
glasses, surgical masks, and gloves to protect themselves and
patients from infectious diseases.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Dental hygienists must be licensed by the State in which they
practice. To qualify for licensure in nearly all States, a candidate
must graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school and pass
both a written and clinical examination. The American Dental Associationís
Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations administers the
written examination, which is accepted by all States and the District
of Columbia. State or regional testing agencies administer the
clinical examination. In addition, most States require an examination
on the legal aspects of dental hygiene practice. Alabama allows
candidates to take its examinations if they have been trained
through a State-regulated on-the-job program in a dentistís office.
In 2004, the Commission on Dental Accreditation accredited 266
programs in dental hygiene. Most dental hygiene programs grant
an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate, a
bachelorís degree, or a masterís degree. A minimum of an associate
degree or certificate in dental hygiene is generally required
for practice in a private dental office. A bachelorís or masterís
degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical
practice in public or school health programs.
A high school diploma and college entrance test scores are usually
required for admission to a dental hygiene program. Also, some
dental hygiene programs prefer applicants who have completed at
least 1 year of college. Requirements vary from one school to
another. Schools offer laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction
in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology,
pharmacology, nutrition, radiography, histology (the study of
tissue structure), periodontology (the study of gum diseases),
pathology, dental materials, clinical dental hygiene, and social
and behavioral sciences.
Dental hygienists should work well with others and must have
good manual dexterity, because they use dental instruments within
a patientís mouth, with little room for error. High school students
interested in becoming a dental hygienist should take courses
in biology, chemistry, and mathematics.
Dental hygienists held about 158,000 jobs in 2004. Because multiple
jobholding is common in this field, the number of jobs exceeds
the number of hygienists. More than half of all dental hygienists
worked part timeóless than 35 hours a week.
Almost all jobs for dental hygienists were in offices of dentists.
A very small number worked for employment services or in offices
Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow much faster
than average for all occupations through 2014, ranking among the
fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand
for dental care and the greater utilization of hygienists to perform
services previously performed by dentists. Job prospects are expected
to remain excellent.
Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth will
stimulate demand for dental hygienists. Older dentists, who have
been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the
occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more
likely to employ one or even two hygienists. In addition, as dentistsí
workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists
to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they
may devote their own time to more profitable procedures.
Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $28.05 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $22.72 and $33.82 an
hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18.05, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $40.70 an hour.
Earnings vary by geographic location, employment setting, and
years of experience. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly,
daily, salary, or commission basis.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent
upon full-time employment. According to the American Dental Association
(ADA), almost all full-time dental hygienists employed by private
practitioners received paid vacation. The ADA also found that
9 out of 10 full-time and part-time dental hygienists received
dental coverage. Dental hygienists who work for school systems,
public health agencies, the Federal Government, or State agencies
usually have substantial benefits.
Other workers supporting health practitioners in an office setting
include dental assistants, medical assistants, occupational therapist
assistants and aides, physical therapist assistants and aides,
physician assistants, and registered nurses.
|Sources of Additional Information
For information on a career in dental hygiene, including educational
- Division of Education, American Dental Hygienists Association,
444 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 3400, Chicago, IL 60611. Internet:
For information about accredited programs and educational requirements,
- Commission on Dental Accreditation, American Dental Association,
211 E. Chicago Ave., Suite 1814, Chicago, IL 60611. Internet:
The State Board of Dental Examiners in each State can supply
information on licensing requirements.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,