Dental Hygienist: Salary, Duties and Responsibilities
Dental hygiene is an exciting and rewarding field that continues to grow larger with each passing year.
Some estimates suggest the occupation will grow by as much as 33.3% by 2022 – a trend that’s due largely in part to the increased awareness of how dental care is linked to a person’s overall health. As people become more aware of the importance of maintaining a clean, healthy smile, they place a greater emphasis on seeing a dental hygienist on a regular basis.
Dental Hygienist Job Description and Duties
Dental hygienists have a wide variety of duties in the dental office setting, but their primary responsibility is to work closely with the dentist to promote good oral health in patients. This includes hands-on tasks, such as cleaning patients’ teeth, as well as administrative tasks like screening patients to determine their oral healthcare habits and activities. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the job responsibilities of a modern-day dental hygienist.
Here are some of the responsibilities of a dental hygienist:
- Take x-rays of patients’ jaw and mouth.
- Scrape calculus, plaque and other deposits from patients’ teeth.
- Floss between patients’ teeth.
- Apply fluoride toothpaste to patients’ teeth.
- Scrape patients’ tongue.
- Apply sealant to discourage the formation of cavities.
- Offer advice on proper oral care practice, such as nutrition, brushing practices, flossing, mouthrinse, etc.
- Keep track of patients’ dental care from visit to visit.
- Prep the patient before the dentist arrives.
- Provide tools to the dentist during operations and procedures.
Note: each state has own regulations regarding the dental hygienist profession.
If you’re thinking of embarking on this career path, familiarize yourself with your respective state’s regulations.
Dental Hygienist Salary:
While income varies depending on a number of different factors, dental hygienists are generally well-paid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for dental hygienists working in the United States was $70,210 in May 2012. The lowest 10% earned less than $46,540, whereas the top 10% earned more than $96,280. To put those numbers into perspective, the median income across all U.S. occupations during that same period was just $34,750.
How To Become a Dental Hygienist
The American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) reports that there are more than 330 dental hygiene educational/training programs offered in the U.S. If you’re interested in becoming a dental hygienist, you’ll usually need an associates degree in dental hygiene at minimum. However, going the extra mile with your education by obtaining either a bachelor’s or master’s degree will open up more employment opportunities while increasing your average starting salary.
Like most professions in the healthcare industry, dental hygienists are regulated by the state in which they operate. With that said, most states require dental hygienists to obtain a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program, as well as obtain passing grades on licensing examination and tests. Your state’s health board can offer additional information on what exactly is required to become a licensed dental hygienist.