A dental hygienist works in a dental office with a dentist and other dental professionals. They examine patients, clean teeth to remove plaque and deposits and update dental records. They may also teach patients about proper dental care, including preventive care and the best methods of gum and tooth maintenance. Dental hygienists may take and interpret X-rays and administer anaesthesia. In some states, dental hygienists are able to do complex dental work, including removing sutures, filling cavities and performing periodontal therapy. Dental hygienists usually require advanced educational degrees and are paid relatively high salaries.
Average Starting Salary
In most states, dental hygienists must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary, but most states require hygienists to have graduated from an accredited program and to pass a National Board Dental Hygiene Exam. The American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits programs, which are usually associate or bachelor's degree programs. The national exam tests the hygienists' knowledge of anatomy, X-rays and basic dental health procedures. Some states also have their own state exams, which may be written or clinical.
Once a dental hygienist is licensed, according to the Greensboro Area Health Education Center, the average starting salary is £20,800.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish starting salaries, but it publishes mean (average) salaries. Beginning hygienists can expect to be at the lower end of the scale, while advanced hygienists may make more depending on their qualifications, work environment and geographic location. The 10th percentile salary is £28,717 a year, while the 90th percentile starting salary is £59,455.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also publishes data on the median salary of dental hygienists. The median salary published in May 2006 was £19.60 per hour. The lowest 10 per cent of dental hygienists earned £12.60 an hour or less. New graduates can expect to earn close to the lower 10 per cent, depending on their educational background and job environment.
This salary does not take benefits into account. The American Dental Association states that approximately 86 per cent of hygienists have health benefits at least partially provided by employers.
Salary by Industry
The environment you choose to work in can have a dramatic impact on your starting salary. Dental hygienists who work in private dentist offices make an average of £43,693 a year. Hygienists who work in hospitals make an average of £36,185, while those who work in outpatient care centres have a higher average annual salary of £44,310.
Top Paying States
Some states tend to pay dental hygienists more than others. For example, a dental hygienist working in Alaska has an average yearly salary of £59,995, the highest in the nation. Washington is next, with an average of £57,570 annually, followed by California at £55,269 a year, Oregon at £49,686 and at £49,172.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dental hygienists is good. Between 2006 and 2016, the employment rate is projected to grow about 30 per cent. Job prospects are good for recent grads, who may expect to see average starting salaries rise as a result of increased demand for hygienists.