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Dental Hygiene Jobs and Employment Opportunities

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dental hygienist. Get a quick view of the job duties, degree programs and licensure requirements to see if this is the career for you.

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A dental hygienist is a great career choice for someone who likes to brighten people's smiles. If you're an individual who is meticulous about dental hygiene, enrolling in training programs at a college or trade school would set you on your way. An associate, master's or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene is needed, as well as one year of college and state licensure.

Essential Information

Dental hygienists clean teeth and examine oral areas for signs of oral disease. Depending on the state in which they work, they may also educate patients on oral hygiene, take and develop x-rays, or apply fluoride or sealants. Most dental hygienists work in dental offices, assisting dentists with clinical work. They are in high demand in the American workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Required Education Associate degree
Licensure Required; written and clinical exam from the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11% (much faster than average)
Average Salary (2018)* $75,500 per year

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dental Hygienist Job Description

Dental hygienists work in dental offices as assistants and complete simpler tasks than those of a dentist. Some of these responsibilities include cleaning and polishing patients' teeth, removing hard and soft deposits from teeth, examining patients' gums, teaching oral hygiene and recording information for the dentist. A dental hygienist must know how to use dental tools and machinery, like x-ray machines, and hand and rotary instruments used to get plaque off teeth.

In addition, hygienists check a patient's teeth for cavities and make diagnoses for reporting to the dentist, who makes the final decision on treatment options.

Depending on the state, hygienists may have further responsibilities. Some states allow the hygienist to administer anesthetics. Other states may allow the hygienist to place and carve temporary and permanent fillings as well.

Employment Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow by 11% from 2018-2028, which is much faster than the average occupation (www.bls.gov). The reason for this growth will be caused by an increase in the aging population, cosmetic dental procedures, health insurance accessibility, teeth retention, dental knowledge, and emphasis on care. Because of these factors, more community health centers will be hiring dental hygienists to do remedial work often done by dentists.

These factors will change the employment of hygienists in other ways, as well. As is, the BLS states that an overwhelming majority of dental hygienists work in private dental offices. However, this number will likely decrease as the work is needed by other employers, like nursing homes and hospitals.

Education Requirements

Dental hygiene programs are offered through community colleges and trade schools. Dental hygiene degrees are most often earned as associate degrees, though there are certificate, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs as well. Students should have completed science classes during their high school career, including biology and chemistry. Mathematics is also generally required of those going into dental hygiene.

Students should make sure the school to which they've applied is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Classes focus on hands-on clinical work and theoretical classroom study. Courses include microbiology, periodontology, dental hygiene and pathology. After earning a degree, graduates must become licensed by their state, which includes a written and clinical exam administered by the American Dental Association's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations.

At minimum, an associate degree and state licensure is required to begin your career in dental hygiene; bachelor's and master's degrees are optional. Once you have fulfilled these obligations, a career as dental hygienist--a continually expanding field--is waiting for you. Many hygienists find employment in private offices, but other placements could occur in outpatient clinics or related facilities.

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