Students who have an interest in working with people and enjoy biology or chemistry might find a career as a dental hygienist a rewarding experience. Individuals who are looking for a career change with a better economic outlook might also find this field appealing. However, of course, every career choice has pros and cons.
The Pros of Being a Dental Hygienist
Employment opportunities: Unlike other fields, dental hygiene does not depend too much on uncontrollable factors. People will always need dental cleanings and statistics agree: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 33 percent employment increase for dental hygienists between 2012 and 2022.
Higher than average wages: Since employees in this field are in high demand, they command a good salary. According to the BLS, the 2012 median pay for dental hygienists was $70,210 per year, which equals $33.75 an hour. This is twice as much as the average income of all occupations in the U.S. economy. While the dollar amount fluctuates based upon experience and work hours, even the lower paid hygienists earn more than health technicians and technologists in the dental health care field.
Flexible schedules: In an economy where many people are forced to work more to earn less, the job market for dental hygiene provides a welcome exception. The BLS reports that over half of dental hygienists worked only part time in 2012. In addition, many dental practices are usually closed on weekends, nights or holidays. Employees who prefer to work evening hours or weekends can apply at offices that offer extended hours. All these options offer flexibility for employees who have other priorities in life, yet still, need to earn a paycheck.
Comfortable work environment: Dental offices provide a safe work environment in a professional, yet comfortable setting. Since the required uniform consists of scrubs, employees do not need to worry how to dress for work. Many offices even provide the uniform or a clothing allowance.
The Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
Educational requirements: It takes a certain amount of commitment to become a dental hygienist. Applicants have to meet certain criteria to enter dental hygiene school and must at least complete an associates program. In addition, all states require hygienists to pass exams in order to obtain a license.
Lack of benefits: Despite good wages, many dental hygienists miss out on paid sick leave, retirement plans or even basic health insurance because they work for smaller private practices.
Lack of variety: While it takes at least an associates degree to learn this job, the actual tasks performed do not differ much from day to day. Employees can become easily bored with the daily routine of having to repeat the same procedures. Even different dentist offices do not offer much of a change of scenery because they follow mostly the same procedures.
Unpleasant patients: Although drilling, extractions and other invasive dental tasks are not part of the job menu, dental hygienists still deal with exposure to body fluids like blood and saliva. In addition, not every mouth is picture perfect. Regularly dealing with bad breath and decayed teeth up close is not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
Physical demands: Working in a dental office might not seem like much of a challenge, but employees experience physical strain in the form of back and neck aches. Employees in this field often complain about carpal tunnel syndrome as well. The former is a result of slumping over patients, and the latter is caused by having to grasp small instruments for a long time.
While dental hygienists’ duties mostly consist of cleaning teeth, applying protective sealants, and taking x-rays, they also take on the important role of teaching patients about proper oral hygiene. For anyone who can accept the cons, this can lead to a personally rewarding career.