Cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. They affect roughly 84 percent of people over the age of 17, according to the American Dental Hygienist Association. Part of the reason is that many areas of the country don’t have enough dentists to care for the population, so they just go without. But you don’t necessarily need a dentist to keep your teeth clean. That’s the job of a dental hygienist, and salaries for these dental professionals can be quite high.
In 2011, dental hygienists earned an average of $69,760 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median wage — or “midpoint” salary for this occupation — was $69,280 a year, which means that half of all hygienists earn this salary or more a year. But neither of these figures account for experience. As with any job, a dental hygienist makes less when starting in the industry.
With less than one year of experience, a dental hygienist can expect to earn at least $12.38 an hour. This works out to almost $26,000 a year. On the high side, hygienists can earn a starting wage of $34.88 an hour, or just over $72,000 a year — a respectable salary for almost any professional fresh to the field. But compared to the high end of hygienists with five or more years of experience, which is estimated at just over $93,000 a year, there’s room to grow as far as salary goes.
As with almost any job, education affects salaries, and dental hygienists are no exception. A survey by the American Dental Hygienist Association found that hygienists with special permits or privileges, such as administering anesthesia or holding the designation of Registered Dental Hygienist in Extended Functions, earn the most. Those with only a high school diploma earn the least, so it often pays to continue your education beyond high school. With each degree, a hygienist earns additional income.
Employment opportunities for dental hygienists are quite bright. Even those just starting out will enjoy good prospects. From 2010 to 2020, job growth should be 38 percent — much faster than the 14 percent employment growth expected for all U.S. occupations. Because research continues to make connections between dental disease and overall health, demand for care will grow an dentists will continue to expand their practices. To accommodate their patients, more hygienists are needed.
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images