Dental Hygienist Salary: Your 2022 Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Dental hygienists provide teeth cleaning services and other dental assistance. Find out how much you could earn in this exciting field.

[Featured Image] A dental hygienist looks at a tablet.

The median dental hygienist salary within the US is $77,810 per year [1]. Dental hygienists may earn more or less than this salary depending on location, employer, level of education, job title, and more The top paid dental hygienists are the ones who have been in this profession for 20 or more years or live in a state that’s among the higher paying states in the US for dental hygienists.

As a dental hygienist, you will be working in a clinical setting, cleaning patients’ teeth and assisting the dentist in procedures as needed. Educating patients on dental care and oral health is also an important part of this job. To become a dental hygienist, you’ll need to graduate from an accredited dental hygienist program, pass the national written exam for dental hygienists, and obtain state licensure by passing your state's clinical exam.

What is a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional who works alongside a dentist to clean and care for a patient’s overall oral health. They may carry out any treatments or procedures a dental patient may need, based on where they work. Each state determines and regulates exactly what type of tasks a dental hygienist can do.

What does a dental hygienist do?

A dental hygienist examines and cleans a patient’s teeth while educating them on how to properly care for their teeth and gums. Dental hygienists often create a plan of care for patients, document treatment given, and report any findings during routine cleanings or office visits. Their jobs may also include the following specific tasks: 

  • Assess a patient’s oral health, including cancer screening and gum disease evaluations

  • Apply sealants and fluoride to teeth to prevent cavities 

  • Remove plaque and tartar from teeth and gum line using specialized dental tools

  • Administer local anesthetic or nitrous oxide as needed 

  • Perform and interpret dental radiographs 

  • Assist a dentist with dental procedures 

Where does a dental hygienist work?

Dental hygienists typically work in clinical settings like private dental offices, community health clinics, hospitals, assisted living facilities, government-run facilities, or correctional facilities. They can also work in other roles within the fields of education, research, government, public health, and administration. A dental hygienist may work full-time or part-time hours depending on where they work. 

How do you become a dental hygienist?

To become a dental hygienist, you need to earn your associate degree in dental hygiene from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Then you can work toward licensure by passing the written National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and your state’s clinical examination for dental hygienists. This progression is typical for all states even though you may notice some variation in the specific licensing requirements in different states. For example, you may need to submit letters of recommendation, a background check, proof of liability insurance, and educational transcripts.

Dental hygienist programs typically take around two years to complete and include a set number of hours per week for hands-on practice. You can earn a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene (BSDH) if you know you want to eventually move into supervisory positions. Pursuing a BSDH will take longer and cost more than earning the basic requirement of an associate in applied science in dental health (AAS) degree. Some schools will accept your associate degree as transfer credit toward a BSDH, which gives you the option to start your career and earn the bachelor's degree later. 

How much does a dental hygienist make?

A dental hygienist working in the US makes more than $77,000 a year [1], which equates to more than $37.00 an hour [1]. In a clinical setting, a dental hygienist makes about half as much as a dentist, but double what a dental assistant earns. The median salary for dentists is more than $163,000 per year [2], and dental assistants earn close to $39,000 per year [3]. 

Average US salary

Within the US, dental hygienists working in a clinical setting can expect to earn anywhere from $51,130 a year to upwards of $115,510 a year, on average [4]. The median salary in the US is $77,810 a year [5]. With such a wide salary range, you may find it helpful to take a closer look at the lowest and highest salaries in the United States and factors that affect these figures.

Lowest US salary

In the US, the lowest 10 percent of dental hygienists earn less than $60,100 a year on average [5]. The lowest paying states for dental hygienists tend to be located in the south or along the east coast. Many of these states also tend to have lower costs of living than other parts of the country, which is one reason the pay may be lower. Salaries also can be lower in an area that has low demand for dental hygienists. 

Highest US salary

The highest 10 percent of dental hygienists earned more than $100,200 a year on average [5]. Many of the top paying states for dental hygienists are along the west coast. The top three paying states for this profession include Alaska, California, and Washington state. One factor contributing to the higher wages may be the higher cost of living in these areas. Demand for dental hygienists also tends to be higher here, which leads to higher annual salaries.

Factors that affect dental hygienist salary

Several factors affect a dental hygienist’s salary, including years of experience, skills and specialties, and additional training and certifications. You also may find that your salary can vary depending on your location, employer, and industry you choose to work in. To earn more money, you may need to move or go back to school to increase your skill set or learn a specialty.

  • Experience: It's not uncommon to find dental hygienists with years of experience earning less money than people who have less work experience. If you were to stay within the same practice or similar, say for 20 years, you’d likely see about a nominal raise in your annual salary. This may still be less than what another practice offers.

  • Job Title: You also may find offices that offer managerial positions for dental hygienists who have been with the business for a longer time. Stepping into one of these administrative or managerial positions can boost your salary. 

  • Location: Areas where dental services are in demand may pay more. Cities where the cost of living is greater than national averages may also pay more, whereas cities with lower costs of living will be on the lower end of annual salary amount. 

  • Skills and specialties: If you have a certain skill set like radiology or dentistry specialty like periodontics, you may be a more in-demand employee and offered more money by dental practices or other employers. 

  • Employer: Depending on where you work, your employer sets the wages you will be earning each year. If you work for a very large practice with many dental hygienists, you may earn less than another practice that hires fewer hygienists and/or has a more concentrated population to serve. 

  • Industry: You may pursue other roles outside of the traditional clinical setting, which can raise or lower your income. For example, a dental hygienist working in a government facility tends to earn less than one working in a dental practice. 

Job outlook for dental hygienists

An optimistic job outlook is expected for dental hygienists with a projected 11 percent growth rate, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics. As of 2020, there were 206,100 dental hygienist jobs in the US, with an additional 23,100 openings anticipated between 2020 and 2030. Overall, the Bureau predicts an average of 15,600 job openings each year over the decade [6].

Career paths for dental hygienists

Dental hygienists often start their careers in entry-level positions where they gain job experience in the field. From there, they may have opportunities to move into supervisory positions within a facility. Others choose to put their knowledge and experience to work in related industries. The following list details the variety of jobs dental hygienists may eventually pursue.

  • Research dental hygienist: Lead clinical trials, conduct research, gather data, and more organizations.

  • Dental hygiene instructor: Teach and supervise dental student’s clinical experience as an educator for a dental hygienist program. 

  • Corporate dental hygienist: Work for a large dental company in sales, marketing, research, customer relations, or product development. 

  • Public health: Provide dental hygiene services to schools, the military, or government organizations. 

  • Chief supervisor or hygiene coordinator: Manage a team of people or a group of dental hygienists within a facility. 

  • Dentist: Practice dentistry on your own or as part of an established practice.

You will likely need to pursue additional education before you can work in these roles. To become an educator, researcher, or move into a managerial position within a clinical practice, you may need to earn your bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. If you want to work as an administrator or public health official, a master’s degree is typically a requirement. Dentists must earn a doctoral degree to apply for a license to practice in most states.

If you’d like to work in the field of dental hygiene, you’ll find that you have many career pathways from which to choose. Before you begin, learn more about this fast-growing field. Explore courses like Dentistry 101 or Introduction to Dental Medicine, both offered on Coursera.

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Articles sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dental Hygienists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm" Accessed on March 24, 2022. 

  2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook Dentists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dentists.htm" Accessed May 2, 2022.

  3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook Dental Assistants, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm" Accessed May 2, 2022.

  4. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291292.htm#st" Accessed May 2, 2022.

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-5" Accessed on March 23, 2022.

  6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook Dental Hygienists, Job Outlook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-6. Accessed April 26, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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