What is a Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist (also known as Oral Hygienist or Registered Dental Hygienist) is a health care professional who specializes in maintaining good oral hygiene. Dental hygienist roles can be quite complex and vary between clinics. Their duties can encompass pre-treatment care, care during the actual procedure, and post-treatment care. They may be responsible for cleaning and examining teeth or even evaluating the head, neck and mouth for any indications of oral decay or disease. Dental hygienists are an important educational resource for patients as well, providing invaluable information regarding the proper care of teeth. Read more about Dental Hygienist Job Description.

Work Environment

Almost all dental hygienists work in dental clinics alongside of dentists. However, you may find others working in physician offices, outpatient care centers, extended-care facilities, hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, and the military.

Work Schedule

Dental hygienist may work part time or full time hours depending on where they work. Their work schedule is correlated to the opening hours of dental clinics, where most of them work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of dental hygienists work part time in the US. This is because most dentists only employ hygienists for a few shifts per week; as the result, many have to work for multiple dentist clinics.

How Much do Dental Hygienists Make?

The average annual dental hygienist salary is $71,530. Individuals belonging to the lowest 10% of the salary scale makes less than $47,880 while the top 10% earners make over $96,690 per year. The most lucrative sectors for these professionals are other ambulatory health care services, dentist offices, and employment services. Dental hygienists working in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Vallejo, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles take home the highest annual income.

Dental Hygienist Salary: Quick Summary

2013 Mean Salary$71,530 per year
$34.39 per hour
Top 10% Salary$96,690 per year
$46.49 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$47,880 per year
$23.02 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2013192,330

Average Dental Hygienist Salary vs. Related Occupations

Dental hygienists are well compensated for the services they provide. In 2013, they made an average of $71,530 in annual income, which is considered to be above average when compared to other health care careers. Dental hygienists earn substantially more than pharmacy technicians ($30,840), dental assistants ($35,640), and medical assistants ($30,780). However, they far underearn the highest-paid health care professions: family physicians ($183,940), dentists ($164,570) and pharmacists (116,500).

Job Outlook

According to BLS, the expected job growth in this field is 33%, or about 64,200 jobs by 2022. It is ranked amongst the fastest growing occupations, primarily because of the increasing population and renewed focus on oral care. To meet the needs of patients across the United States, hospitals and private dental practitioners are hiring more dental hygienists.

Dental Hygienist Salary: Factors and Influences

According to the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 192,330 individuals employed as dental hygienists, earning a mean annual wage of $71,530. Naturally, this wage fluctuates substantially depending upon the following factors.


As is the case in many other professions, experience for a dental hygienist can propel them forth into the upper echelons of the earnings bracket, averaging over $95,000 each year. Of course, more specialized training can also result in higher wages, particularly after practicing a number of years in a dentist’s office while studying for certification in other specializations.


Working in a dentist’s office is the most common option for dental hygienists after graduating. Due to the sheer amount of hygienists employed (183,380) in this industry, these individuals make an average of $71,860 annually. However, the two top-earning industries (other ambulatory health care services and business/political organizations) employ less than 200 individuals throughout the United States but are also those that secure hygienists the highest salaries, $83,360 and $72,600 respectively.


The annual mean wage of dental hygienists are highest in states on the West coast. District of Columbia is the highest paid state ($93,940) as of 2013. Also leading other states in terms of income are California and Washington, both of which also have yearly salaries of over $90,000. California has the highest number of job opportunities for dental hygienists, employing nearly 22,000 hygienists and almost doubling the second highest state, Texas.

Based upon the state data, the four, top-earning metropolitan areas are all located within California, each of which possesses an annual mean wage of slightly over $100,000. The nonmetropolitan areas that pay the highest wages are also those states with top-earning positions, including Nevada, Washington and, of course, California. These nonmetropolitan areas pay hygienists anywhere from $94,480 to upwards of $110,000.