The Occupational Outlook for Dental Hygiene as a Career
I may be a little late in celebrating the dental hygienist as the recognition and appreciation of dental hygienists occur throughout October. However, it is never too late to toot my professional horn. During this time, we celebrate hygienists' work and help raise awareness to support our patients on the importance of good oral health and total wellness.1 The career education and title of the dental hygienist was instituted over 100 years ago when Dr. Alfred Fones trained his cousin Irene Newman to perform dental prophylaxis on his patients. She became the first "dental hygienist," and soon after, the first dental hygiene program was developed in Connecticut.2 Since then, dental hygienists have become necessary and integral members of the dental team.
United States dental hygienists held over 214,000 dental hygiene positions in 2021. However, a labor shortage has hit dentistry post COVID-19. Recruitment of dental staff positions is an ongoing struggle almost three years later. There are theories of why this is so. If one of the reasons is the lack of employable candidates for the dental hygienist position, the outlook for dental hygienists to fill open spots is looking up. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) forecasts employment of dental hygienists in the U.S. is expected to increase by 9% from 2021 to 2031. This increase is determined to be faster than the average for all other professions.3 This is excellent news for those considering dental hygiene as a career choice.
General information on dental hygiene position
Dental hygienists function within various dental settings to provide preventive care such as dental prophylaxis, oral health promotion, oral hygiene instruction, prevention of mouth injury, and therapeutic care of the diseased periodontium. The employment settings for the dental hygienist may include private dental offices, prisons, hospitals, public health agencies and clinics, educational institutions, or in some cases, the opportunity to be self-employed. Some hygienists who hold dental hygiene practitioner licenses in certain states within the U.S. also provide preventive dental services in rural and remote areas without the direct supervision of a general dentist.
Dental hygienists are required to complete a college, technical school, or approved program in dental hygiene that the Commission on Dental Accreditation in the U.S. adopts or those recognized by the governing board within the province or territory of residence in Canada. Licensing is required and regulated by the state, province, or territory.3,4
Average Salary and Benefits for Dental Hygienists
The median annual salary for dental hygienists in the United States, as of 2021, was $77,810 for those employed in private practice dental offices.3 Canadian median yearly wage is $81,120.4. Vacation, sick time, and profit sharing may be offered in some circumstances. The BLS provides state-specific salary data here. Competitive salaries have increased with the demand for dental hygienists since the pandemic. Finally, we are being respected and paid appropriately for our services rendered.
Trends contributing to employment outlook
The employment growth for dental hygienists over the next ten years is influenced by factors including:
- Growing numbers of aging baby boomers continue to maintain their original teeth longer than previous generations and therefore require access to dental services.
- The oral-systemic link acknowledges that overall health is influenced by sustained oral health. The general public is more mindful of their overall health, and dental hygienists provide necessary oral preventive and screening services that will impact a patient's general health.
- The demand for dental hygienists will continue to rise as state laws allow dental hygienists to work independently as Public Health Dental Hygiene Practitioners in areas with shortages of primary health care providers and lower access to care.
- Dental hygienists are also acquiring additional education and training as myofunctional therapists who help patients with breathing, speech, swallowing, and eating issues through individualized facial muscle training.
The dental industry is constantly changing and expanding. There are growing opportunities for those thinking of dental hygiene as a career. As our profession's laws modify to allow dental hygienists to practice independently, we may move out of our traditional clinical roles and step into a position that maximizes our education, expertise, and scope of practice.
- (2022). October is National Dental Hygiene Month. www.adha.org. https://www.adha.org/national-dental-hygiene-month
- Fones, Alfred C. "The Origin and History of the Dental Hygienists. 1926." Journal of dental hygiene 87 Suppl 1 (2013): 58–62. Print.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Hygienists, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dentalhygienists.htm (visited November 01, 2022).
- (2022). Dental Hygienist in Canada. Government of Canada Job Bank. https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/summary-occupation/18315/ca