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.
Dental hygienists use an assortment of different tools to complete
their tasks. Hand and rotary instruments and ultrasonic devices are
used to clean and polish teeth, including removing calculus, stains,
and plaque. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take dental pictures,
and sometimes develop the film. They may use models of teeth to
explain oral hygiene, perform root planning as a periodontal
therapy, or apply cavity-preventative agents such as fluorides and
pit and fissure sealants. In some States, hygienists are allowed to
administer anesthetics, while in others they administer local
anesthetics using syringes. Some States also allow hygienists to
place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and
periodontal dressings; remove sutures; and smooth and polish metal
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.
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
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.
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. More
than half of all dental hygienists worked part timeless than 35
hours a week.
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
Education and training.
A high school diploma and college entrance test scores are usually
required for admission to a dental hygiene program. High school
students interested in becoming a dental hygienist should take
courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Also, some dental
hygiene programs require applicants to have completed at least 1
year of college. Specific entrance requirements vary from one school
In 2006, there were 286 dental hygiene programs accredited by the
Commission on Dental Accreditation. Most dental hygiene programs
grant an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate, a
bachelor's degree, or a master's degree. A minimum of an associate
degree or certificate in dental hygiene is generally required for
practice in a private dental office. A bachelor's or master's degree
usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in
public or school health programs.
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
Dental hygienists must be licensed by the State in which they
practice. Nearly all States require candidates to graduate from an
accredited dental hygiene school and pass both a written and
clinical examination. The American Dental Association's 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.
is the only State that allows candidates to take its examinations if
they have been trained through a State-regulated on-the-job program
in a dentist's office.
Dental hygienists should work well with others because they work
closely with dentists and dental assistants as well as dealing
directly with patients. Hygienists also need good manual dexterity,
because they use dental instruments within a patient's mouth, with
little room for error.
Dental hygienists held about 167,000 jobs in 2006. Because multiple
job holding is common in this field, the number of jobs exceeds the
number of hygienists. Almost all jobs for dental hygienists were in
offices of dentists. A very small number worked for employment
services, offices of physicians, or other industries.
Dental hygienists rank among the fastest growing occupations, and
job prospects are expected to remain excellent.
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.
The demand for dental services will grow because of population
growth, older people increasingly retaining more teeth, and a
growing focus on preventative dental care. To meet this demand,
facilities that provide dental care, particularly dentists' offices,
will increasingly employ dental hygienists, and more hygienists per
office, to perform services that have been performed by dentists in
Job prospects are expected to remain excellent.
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 more
hygienists. In addition, as dentists' 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
Median hourly earnings of dental hygienists were $30.19 in May 2006.
The middle 50 percent earned between $24.63 and $35.67 an hour. The
lowest 10 percent earned less than $19.45, and the highest 10
percent earned more than $41.60 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, 86 percent of hygienists receive hospital and
The above wage data are from the
Occupational Employment Statistics
(OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest
National, State, and local earnings data, visit the