How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement opportunities usually come from working outside a typical dentist’s office, and usually require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene. Some dental hygienists may choose to pursue a career teaching at a dental hygiene program, working in public health, or working in a corporate setting.
Dental hygienists held about 174,100 jobs in 2008. Because multiple job holding is common in this field, the number of jobs exceeds the number of hygienists. About 51 percent of dental hygienists worked part time. Almost all jobs for dental hygienists—about 96 percent—were in offices of dentists. A very small number worked for employment services, in physicians’ offices, or in other industries.
Dental hygienists rank among the fastest growing occupations. Job prospects are expected to be favorable in most areas, but competition for jobs is likely in some areas.
Employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 36 percent through 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand for dental care and more use of hygienists.
The demand for dental services will grow because of population growth, older people increasingly retaining more teeth, and a growing emphasis on preventative dental care. To help meet this demand, facilities that provide dental care, particularly dentists' offices, will increasingly employ dental hygienists, often to perform services that have been performed by dentists in the past. Ongoing research indicating a link between oral health and general health also will spur the demand for preventative dental services, which are typically provided by dental hygienists.
Job prospects are expected to be favorable in most areas, but will vary by geographical location. Because graduates are permitted to practice only in the State in which they are licensed, hygienists wishing to practice in areas that have an abundance of dental hygiene programs may experience strong competition for jobs.
Older dentists, who have been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or more hygienists. In addition, as dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more complex procedures.
Median annual wages of dental hygienists were $66,570 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $55,220 and $78,990. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,470.
Earnings vary by geographic location, employment setting, and years of experience. Dental hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. According to a 2009 survey conducted by the American Dental Hygienist Association, about half of all hygienists reported receiving some form of employment benefits. Of those receiving benefits, paid vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans were the most common.
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