Dental Hygienist Salary Career as a Dental Hygienist

By Diane Turner

Currently there are over 184,000 Dental Hygienists in the United States that work as part of the oral healthcare team supervised by a licensed Dentist.  While each state has its own regulations and requirements for the services performed by a dental hygienist, each hygienist skills include teaching patients proper oral hygiene, taking dental x-rays, and cleaning a patient’s teeth.  Dental Hygienists often work in dental specialists office even though the occupation does not include subspecialties in these fields.  The manner of determining the average Dental Hygienist salaryis according to the industry facility worked. Becoming a dental hygienist requires a minimum of an associate degree in dental hygiene at an accredited school.  There are schools that offer Certificates in Dental Hygiene but employers are less likely to accept these credentials for hiring purposes.  The ADA requires that all Associate’s Degree must include a specific number of laboratory hours and clinical practice hours to evaluate skills.  Additionally, the degree must include biology, anatomy, chemistry, nutrition, physiology, radiography, periodontology and mathematics with an average grade of B- or above.  

Those dental hygienists that wish to advance their career and open the door to additional opportunities in affiliated fields may choose to acquire a Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree as a dental assistant or dental hygienist.  The American Dental Association [ADA] has proposed that two additional fields be added to the oral hygiene team.  The first, which has already begun as a trial program of study, is for Dental Health Coordinator.  This job will require a Bachelor’s Degree in Oral Healthcare and will focus on arranging services for underserved communities.  The second is as an Oral Preventative Assistant whose job description includes providing preventative oral health care and instruction to underserved communities.  The average wages are calculated for Dental Hygienist salary by state. 

A career as a dental hygienist requires above average skills in dexterity, communication skills, physical stamina and the technical skills required to operate the digital machinery in use today.  Since some patients experience a great deal of fear in dental offices, the art of empathetic communication to assist the patient in calming down and offering realistic comfort is essential.  Unlike other occupations in the oral health field, dental hygienists may work independent of a dentist and operate their own business.

Dental Hygienist Average Salary

The average Dental Hygienist salary is currently $69,760.  It is important to keep in mind that there are several factors that can affect the salary of a dental hygienist, including the region or city as well as metropolitan versus non-metropolitan setting in which you are employed.  The type and level of degree, amount of experience and grades upon graduation (for those just graduating) all serve to play an important role in landing a job and the salary you can expect.

Dental Hygienist Salary Factors and Influences

Dental Hygienist salaries can fluctuate for a variety of reasons. Understanding these reasons can help you choose a salary range most in line with your needs and desires.

Before we discuss the different influences on a Dental Hygienist salary, let’s look at the range of salaries. Currently, the bottom 10% of dental hygienist salaries average $46,020 a year. In comparison, the top 10% of dental hygienist salaries average $94,850 a year.

However, when looking at salary trends, the salary for a dental hygienistdata becomes extremely encouraging. For instance, in 2008, the average dental hygienist made around $66,950 a year or $30,000less than the top 10% of dental hygienists make today. 

To put it another way, the average dental assistant’s salary has increased 1.5% over the last four years! This is exceptionally steady growth and is projected to grow 38% more over the next twenty years.  However, that estimate is based on higher education degrees and the proposed ADA added affiliated career fields. 

In fact, very few other mainstream professions can boast the robust growth expected for salaries in dental hygienistfield expects over the same time period. This has made dental hygienists a popular entry-level career choice for those just graduating from high school.

The average salary of a dental hygienist can be affected by a variety of factors. The most influential factors included the specific city or state as well as whether you are in a metropolitan or non-metropolitan are.  The other major factor that will determine salary is whether or not you are working in a specialists office. 

Demand for dental hygienists greatly influence how much compensation you may receive as a dental hygienist in a particular metropolitan or non-metropolitan area.  If you live in a location with a high demand for dental hygienists, you are more likely to receive a higher salary.  Conversely, if you are in a locale with a lower demand, you should expect to be on the lower end of the salary pay scale.

Here are some of the most in demand metropolitan areas for dental hygienists and the average salaries for those cities.

San Francisco, California: Average Salary:  $106,120

New Haven, Connecticut: Average Salary: $105,420

Fairfield, California: Average Salary: $100,550

Santa Rosa, California: Average Salary:  $98,000

Bremerton, Washington: Average Salary:  $97,990

Kennewick, Washington: Average Salary: $94,900

There are several non-metropolitan areas also considered high demand regions for dental hygienists and these are the average salaries for some of these regions.

West Central Nevada: Average Salary:  $111,350

Southwest Alaska: Average Salary: $97,200

Southwestern Washington: Average Salary: $96,920

Northwestern Connecticut: Average Salary: $82,840

Northwestern Washington State: Average Salary: $92,160

It is important to note that the factors that influence higher dental hygienist salaries are not always the same factors that influence job growth in any particular area.

For instance, while San Francisco has become a poster city for economic downturn in the last 5 years, it still pays a dental hygienist an average of over $35,000 more than the national average.  In spite of Bremerton, Washington being below the poverty level with an average of 14% unemployment for more than ten years, the salary of a dental assistant is $30,000 over the same national average.    

In general, the lowest paying areas for most career occupations are typically found in rural areas across the United States.  This is not necessarily the case for dental assistants as is seen in the instance of non-metropolitan areas of Southwest Alaska and West Central Nevada withdental assistants average salary paying $25,000 to $30,000 over the national average.

For this reason, we encourage you to investigate average salaries for any particular city or region before making a decision on dental hygienist as a career.

As for metropolitan areas, here are some that are on the lower end of dental hygienist salaries:

Flint, Michigan: Average Salary $54,840

Holland, Michigan: Average Salary: $61,200

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida: Average Salary: $63,020

St. George, Utah: Average Salary: $61,940

Waterbury, Connecticut: Average Salary: $70,730

In spite of the specific cities and rural areas that are in the top and bottom of the pay range, the consistency of pay throughout a state may vary greatly.  These are the five highest paying states.  

Dental Hygienist in California: Average Salary $91,010

Dental Hygienist in Washington, D.C.: Average Salary $90,500

Dental Hygienist in Washington State: Average Salary $90,420

Dental Hygienist in Nevada: Average Salary $88,620

Dental Hygienist in Alaska: Average Salary $86,310

In addition to where you live, another factor in a dental hygienist salary is dependant on the type of facility in which you work.  Currently the average dental hygienist working in:  

Offices of Dentist’s:  Average Salary: $70,070

Physician’s Offices: Average Salary:  $64,160

Outpatient Care Facilities: Average Salary:  $69,220

Facilities Support Services – as self-employed: Average Salary: $74,650

Federal facilities: Average Salary: $53,960

As you can note, those who are self-employed and acquire their own patients independently increase income opportunity approximately 10% over the national average. 

Dental HygienistSalary Compared To Related Fields

Now, let’s compare the salary of a dental hygienist to some related health care fields that require the same amount of education.

Average Dental Hygienist Salary: $69,760

Average Registered Nurse Salary: $64,690

Average Physical Therapist Assistant Salary: $47,490

Average Radiation Therapist: $74,980

Average Speech Language Pathologist Salary: $66,920

As you can see here, the average salary for a dental hygienist is on the upper end of related professional salaries with the same educational requirements.  It is these combinations of factors that have made the dental hygienist such an attractive career choice.

Dental HygienistSalary by State

Below are the five states that employ the most dental hygienists and the average salary in each state.

California: Average Salary: $91,010

Texas: Average Salary: $67,190

Florida: Average Salary: $58,080

New York: Average Salary: $68,440

Michigan:  Average Salary $60,310

Below are the five states with the highest concentration of dental hygienists and their average salaries in the concentrated locations:

Michigan: Average Salary: $60,310

Utah: Average Salary: $65,880

Idaho: Average Salary: $69,060

Connecticut: Average Salary: $85,700

Washington State: Average Salary: $90,420

Keep in mind that “highest concentration” does not necessarily mean the best place for dental hygienist. Areas with the highest concentration may mean less demand and more competition, depending on the area. Again, we always encourage you to investigate the salaries in any particular region or city where you would like to work.

Dental Hygienist Types of Salaries

It is important to understand that dental hygienist is a career field with opportunities in several specialties within the field. However, the average salary is dictated more by the facility, in which the activity is performed, such as dental offices, clinics, nursing homes, etc.   Each specific facility has its own income range.  Here are the most common industries with the average salary information and a brief description of the facility referred to in each category.

Dental Hygienist Dental Offices:Average Salary: $70,070

Dental offices include dentists who share an office with one of the parties owning the office space and the other’s renting from them.  The dental hygienist may work for one or all of the dentists with each contributing to the salary.

Dental Hygienist Outpatient Care Centers:Average Salary: $69,620

Outpatient care centers such as medical/dental offices and outpatient oral surgical facilities often hire dental hygienists for care of elderly or underserved populations. 

Dental Hygienist Facility Support Services:Average Salary: $ 74,650

Generally, these jobs for dental hygienist are limited to those operating as self-employed business owners who contract with Nursing Homes and other health care facilities for those who are unable to travel to a dental office or have no private dentist.

Dental Hygienist Federal Facilities:Average Salary: $53,960

Federal facilities such as Veteran’s hospitals, outpatient care facilities under the Veteran’s Administration and clinics in rural or underserved areas hire dental hygienists to clean teeth, take x-rays, and teach oral health to young people and young mothers. Many of these facilities are located on Native American Reservations. 

History of Dental Hygienist

The role of dental hygienist goes back to the early 1900s when Dr. Alfred Fones of Connecticut presented an “irrational” theory to other dentists in his association.  Keep in mind, that the standard dental treatment for cavities was extraction.  So, when Dr. Fones suggested that “oral care and hygiene” could “prevent” many dental diseases, he was very much on the leading edge of his field.   In 1906, Dr. Fones personally trained the very first dental hygienist, Ms. Irene Newman to do intensive dental cleanings on his patients’ teeth.  The first responsibility of the dental hygienist remains as preventative care. 

Dental Hygienist Salary Outlook – Conclusion

As was pointed out earlier in this article, the outlook for the dental hygienist salary over the next ten years is brighter than most other occupations of the same education level.  That said:   it is important to realize that currently those who have attended schools offering only a Certification in Dental Hygiene are considered to be qualified only as assistants to dental hygienists.  Your level of education, final grade point average and clinical experience prior to graduation are the determinative factors that will decide where you place in the range of salaries in any given region.  Those who opt to get a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene now will be on the cutting edge of the highest salaries and eligible for the newest designated field that the ADA is creating.  Dental hygienists are registered not licensed with a state; but, that does require passing state boards.