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Career Information

Dental Hygienists: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Dental Hygienists do?
Dentists depend on dental hygienists to examine patients' teeth and gums, clean and polish teeth, apply sealants and other cavity-preventative agents, and explain procedures. These trained dental professionals use their clinical knowledge to treat existing issues and prevent future problems, all while keeping the patient comfortable. Dental hygienists work closely with dentists and dental assistants and should have good communication skills and manual dexterity.

A Day in the Life of a Dental Hygienist
Hygienists work in dental offices, observing safety and sanitation requirements such as safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves. Dentists may require dental hygienists to work chair-side during patient examinations and treatments, either completing charts or operating machinery used by the dentist.

Flexible scheduling is a bonus of the job, because many hygienists work part time and often set their own schedules. Hygienists are often hired to work only 2 or 3 days a week and over half work part-time.

Dental Hygienist Training and Education
Formal training programs prepare students to work as dental hygienists in private practice, hospitals, group specialty practice, schools, and more. An associate's degree is considered standard training for hygienists, who must then sit for licensing board exams. Typical coursework for dental hygienist training programs includes orofacial anatomy, dental radiology, head & neck anatomy, periodontics, dental materials, and microbiology.

Those who aspire to work in research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs generally continue their education to receive a bachelor's or master's degree in dental hygiene.

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Dental Hygienist Employment & Outlook
As older dentists retire and are replaced, the trend of hiring more dental hygienists should bring excellent job opportunities for dental hygienists. More and more dentists are looking to hygienists to perform routine preventative and clinical tasks, leaving them more time to focus on advanced work. Dentists with multiple hygienists are able to take on more patients, resulting in more revenue for the office.

Because of this shift, job prospects are excellent for dental hygienists. This career ranks among the nation's fastest growing professions, thanks to the increasing general demand for dental care as well as a similar demand by an aging population. Overall employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 30 percent through 2016, adding about new 50,000 jobs to the field.

Typical Dental Hygienist Salary
Earnings for dental hygienists vary widely based on education, experience, and location. Hygienists may be paid on an hourly, daily, salary, or commission basis.

Dental hygienists enjoyed mean annual earnings of $64,910 in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hygienists working in Alaska saw the highest salaries nationwide, at $91,960. Additionally, the American Dental Association reports that 86 percent of dental hygienists receive medical and hospital benefits.

Sources
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dental Hygienists
Harcum College - Dental Hygiene

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