How Much Does a Dental Hygienist Make: Earning Potential in Oral Healthcare

how much does a dental hygienist make
how much does a dental hygienist make

Dental hygiene is a critical aspect of maintaining oral health, and dental hygienists play a pivotal role in preventive care. As oral health awareness continues to rise, the demand for skilled dental hygienists is on the upswing.

One common question that individuals considering a career in dental hygiene often ask is, ‘How much does a dental hygienist make?’ In this article, we will explore the earning potential of professionals in oral healthcare.

Who is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional who specializes in preventive dental care. These healthcare professionals work closely with dentists to help patients maintain good oral hygiene and prevent dental issues. Dental hygienists typically perform a range of duties that contribute to the overall oral health of their patients.

Key responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Cleaning Teeth: This professional cleans and polishes patients’ teeth, removing plaque, tartar, and stains. This process, known as dental prophylaxis or teeth cleaning, helps prevent cavities, gingivitis, and more severe oral health issues.
  • Examining Patients: Before and during the teeth cleaning process, this oral healthcare professional often conducts preliminary examinations of patients’ oral health. They may look for signs of issues such as gum disease, cavities, or oral abnormalities.
  • Taking X-rays: Here, this person may take dental X-rays to assist in the diagnosis of dental problems. These X-rays provide a detailed view of the teeth, gums, and jawbone.
  • Educating Patients: An essential aspect of this job role is educating patients on proper oral hygiene practices. This includes showing effective brushing and flossing techniques, providing information on the importance of a balanced diet, and offering guidance on other oral health practices.
  • Applying Fluoride and Sealants: He/She may apply fluoride treatments to strengthen teeth and prevent decay. They may also apply dental sealants to protect the chewing surfaces of molars, particularly in children.
  • Assessing Oral Health: They assess the overall health of patients’ mouths, including the condition of their gums, tongue, and other oral tissues. They may check for signs of oral diseases or abnormalities.
  • Recording Patient Histories: The oral healthcare professional often records and updates patients’ dental and medical histories. This information helps dentists understand the overall health of their patients and tailor treatments accordingly.

How Much Does a Dental Hygienist Make?

According to data from BLS, dental hygienists in the United States earn an average annual salary of $77,810. In a clinical setting, dental hygienists typically make around half of what dentists earn, with dentists having a median salary exceeding $163,000 per year.

However, dental hygienists earn approximately double the annual salary of dental assistants, who earn close to $39,000 on average.

The salary range for these professionals in the oral healthcare system varies, with professionals in this field expected to earn between $51,130 and $115,510 on average. This range considers factors such as geographic location, level of experience, and any specialized skills or certifications that dental hygienists may possess.

Overall, dental hygienists play a crucial role in oral healthcare, providing preventive care and contributing significantly to maintaining patients’ oral health.

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How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist involves a combination of education, clinical training, and licensure. Here are the typical steps to become a dental hygienist in the United States.

Educational Requirements

  • High School Diploma or Equivalent: Begin by earning a high school diploma or its equivalent. Courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics can provide a strong foundation for future studies.
  • Prerequisite College Courses: Some dental hygiene programs require specific college-level courses, often in the sciences, before admission.

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Choose an Accredited Dental Hygiene Program

  • Complete a Dental Hygiene Program: Enroll in an accredited dental hygiene program. These programs are offered at community colleges, technical schools, and universities. Most programs result in an associate degree, though bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are also available for those seeking advanced education.
  • Coursework: The curriculum typically includes courses in anatomy, physiology, radiography, pharmacology, and clinical dental hygiene practice.

Clinical Training

  • Hands-On Experience: Dental hygiene programs include clinical components where you can gain hands-on experience in providing dental hygiene services under the supervision of licensed professionals.

Licensing Requirements

  • Pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDHE): After completing an accredited program, individuals must pass the NBDHE, a comprehensive written examination.
  • State Clinical Board Examination: Besides the NBDHE, most states require candidates to pass a clinical board examination, which assesses clinical skills. The American Board may administer this to Dental Examiners or a state-specific board.
  • State Licensure: Once both exams are completed, graduates can apply for state licensure to practice as a dental hygienist. Licensing requirements vary by state, so it’s essential to check the specific requirements of the state in which you plan to practice.
  • Find Employment: Once licensed, dental hygienists can seek employment in dental offices, clinics, hospitals, or other healthcare settings.

Factors that Affect How Much a Dental Hygienist Makes

Several factors influence the earning potential of dental hygienists. They include:

  • Geographic Location: Salaries for dental hygienists can vary significantly based on geographic location. Areas with a higher cost of living or a shortage of dental professionals may offer higher salaries to attract and keep qualified individuals.
  • Experience: Like many professions, experience plays a crucial role in determining a dental hygienist’s salary. Those with several years of practice often command higher wages due to their expertise and established skills.
  • Setting of Practice: Dental hygienists can work in various settings, including dental offices, clinics, hospitals, and educational institutions. The setting of practice can impact earnings, with some environments offering higher salaries or additional benefits.
  • Continuing Education and Specialization: Dental hygienists who pursue continuing education and specialize in specific areas, such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry, may experience increased earning potential. Specialized skills and knowledge can make a hygienist more valuable in certain settings.

Job Outlook for Dental Hygienists

The demand for dental hygienists is projected to experience a notable 11% increase from 2018 to 2028, surpassing the average growth rate of 5 percent observed across all occupations. This surge in demand is attributed to the aging baby-boomer population and a heightened awareness of the significance of dental care.

Research shows that a growing interest in oral health, coupled with ongoing initiatives to enhance consumer access to oral health services, will serve as key factors propelling the demand for preventative dental treatments.

Dental Hygienist Skills

Dental hygienists require a diverse set of skills to effectively carry out their responsibilities in oral healthcare. These skills encompass both technical proficiency and interpersonal abilities. Here are some essential skills for dental hygienists:

  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication Skills
  • Attention to Detail
  • Critical Thinking
  • Technical Proficiency
  • Empathy and Patience
  • Team Collaboration
  • Continuous Learning

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How much does a dental hygienist make on average?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for dental hygienists in the United States is around $77,810.

How does a dental hygienist’s salary compare to that of a dentist?

In a clinical setting, they typically earn about half as much as dentists. The median salary for dentists is more than $163,000 per year.

Are there opportunities for career advancement?

Yes, dental hygienists can pursue career advancement through continuing education, getting certifications in specialized areas, and, sometimes, pursuing a bachelor’s or master’s degree of increased opportunities.

Can dental hygienists specialize in specific areas?

Yes, you can pursue a specialization in areas such as periodontics, pediatric dentistry, or public health by obtaining additional certifications or degrees.


As the demand for these professionals continues to rise, so does their earning potential. Factors such as location, experience, and specialization can significantly impact the salary. If you’re considering a career in dental hygiene, it’s important to weigh these factors and explore opportunities for career advancement and growth in oral healthcare.



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