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Dental Hygiene Career

Career Description

Dental hygienists remove soft and hard deposits from teeth,  teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene, and provide other preventive dental care. They examine patients’ teeth and gums, recording the presence of diseases or abnormalities.

Common Work Tasks

  • Use hand and rotary instruments and ultrasonic devices to clean and polish teeth
  • Remove calculus, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • Use x-ray machines to take dental pictures, and sometimes develop the film
  • Use models of teeth to explain oral hygiene
  • Perform root planning as a periodontal therapy,  or apply cavity-preventative agents such as fluorides and pit and fissure sealants
  • Help patients develop and maintain good oral health
  • Explain the relationship between diet and oral health or inform patients how to select toothbrushes and show them how to brush and floss their teeth
  • Prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for the dentist to interpret
  • Place and carve filling materials, temporary fillings, and periodontal dressings; remove sutures; and smooth and polish metal restorations

Other Job Titles

Dental Hygienists are also known by other titles, including:

  • Dental Assistant
  • Medical Assistant
  • Radiation Therapist
  • Physician Assistant
  • Orthodontic Technician

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
Most dental hygiene programs grant an associate degree, although some also offer a certificate,  a bachelor’s degree, or a master’s degree. A minimum of an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene is generally required for practice in a private dental office. A bachelor’s or master’s degree usually is required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.

Licensure and Certification
Dental hygienists must be licensed by the State in which they practice.  Nearly all States require candidates to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene school and pass both a written and clinical examination.

  High school students interested in becoming a dental hygienist should take courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Dental hygienists should work well with others because they work closely with dentists and dental assistants as well as dealing directly with patients. Hygienists also need good manual dexterity, because they use dental instruments within a patient’s mouth, with little room for error.


The median annual salary for Dental Hygienists is $64,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $89,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $42,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of dental hygienists are:

  • Offices of Dentists - $65,140
  • Employment Services - $69,730
  • Offices of Physicians - $56,470
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $54,970
  • Outpatient Care Centers - $68,590

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  30%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 50,000
  • Employment 2006 : 167,000
  • Employment 2016:  217,000
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