In today’s unstable job market, many people are looking to start new careers due to job layoffs. The answer to many people is to attend college for the first time or return to school to become trained in a new career. Along with recent high school graduates, many people are choosing jobs in health care to gain steady employment. One of the most promising jobs in the health care field is that of dental hygienist. Considered to be one of the fastest-growing jobs of the next decade, it’s a great choice for those who want a job requiring a minimal amount of college that offers job stability, career advancement and high salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average dental hygienist salary is over $70,000 per year. However, there are many factors that play a part in determining just how much a dental hygienist will earn.
Perhaps the biggest factor impacting a dental hygienist salary is the level of education that’s obtained. Most dental hygienist programs are two-year degree programs offered at numerous community colleges, which combine classroom instruction with lab sessions and clinical work with local dentists. While some colleges and universities offer Bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene, these degrees are becoming less and less common as Associate degree programs are proving capable of teaching all the skills necessary to succeed in the profession.
Some dental hygienists, after years of working in the field, choose to return to school to receive a Master’s degree in Dental Hygiene. This degree enables them to teach at the college level, in addition to conduct research or work in public health programs. Salaries for those who receive Master’s degrees can be well over $100,000 annually, especially if they are working on research projects or managing public health programs in the United States or abroad. For those seeking Master’s degrees, these can usually be obtained online. The biggest factor to keep in mind is to make sure the school is properly accredited and has no history of issues with regards to accreditation status.
Location, Location, Location
Just as they say in real estate, location plays an important role in job opportunities and salaries for dental hygienists. Rural parts of the United States are in desperate need of dental hygienists, often because very few dentists choose to locate their practices in rural areas. As a result, it becomes difficult to persuade dental hygienists to work there rather than in bigger, more metropolitan areas. In these cases the rules of supply and demand apply, so a dental hygienist salary in rural areas tends to be quite high. In many cases, salaries in these areas can approach $80,000 annually if there are few other hygienists around. Areas of the United States that are in need of dental hygienists include southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi, northern states such as North Dakota and western states such as New Mexico and Arizona.
Licensing and Credentials
All states in the U.S. require dental hygienists to be properly licensed, which is done by completing an accredited program through a college or university and then obtaining passing grades on the state’s examination. Because this is a basic requirement for the job, it has little to no impact on salaries. However, those hygienists who regularly attend seminars and stay on top of the latest trends and techniques can command higher salaries where they work, as they will be able to handle more tasks on their own. Some hygienists also take an exam to become a Registered Dental Hygienist, which deals with the legal aspects of dental hygiene practice and patient rights and confidentiality.
Moving Up the Ranks
While some career experts question just how much career advancement is possible as a dental hygienist, others believe there is quite a bit of room for advancement. Those hygienists who choose to stay employed in a dental practice can often move up to supervisory positions, overseeing other hygienists and dental assistants. Some take on more administrative duties and teaching duties, regularly attending trade shows, workshops and training seminars to learn about new techniques and equipment. In many cases, these hygienists can command salaries of $75,000 or more per year. Some choose to take their skills after a few years and become sales representatives for dental supply companies, where they can often make six-figure salaries.
For people who enjoy helping others and have excellent manual dexterity, a career as a dental hygienist makes perfect sense. With its salary range of $50,000-$100,000 annually, generous benefits such as vacation time, sick leave and retirement benefits and career advancement opportunities it’s a great choice in today’s job market.