Oral Hygienist: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become an oral hygienist. Learn about job duties, education requirements, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Dental Hygiene degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Oral Hygienist?

Oral hygienists clean patient's teeth and provide preventative dental care. They give patients routine cleanings and explain best oral health to them. They also may perform other minor dental procedures, though their duties are limited. The dentist may take on a more comprehensive role and do the hygiene work themselves.

The following chart gives you an overview about a career as an oral hygienist.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Dental hygiene
Key Responsibilities Clean patient teeth and gums; apply dental fluoride and sealants; take dental x-rays; maintain patient records
Licensure and/or Certification All states require dental hygienists to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 19% (much faster than average)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $72,330

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as an Oral Hygienist?

Oral hygienists, also known as dental hygienists, are part of a dentist's team. You would have varied duties, including cleaning teeth, making x-rays, molding patients' teeth, educating patients on proper hygiene and performing administrative office duties. While cleaning teeth, you will likely be responsible for removing soft and hard deposits as well as tartar and plaque. You would also examine the gums for any signs of disease and educate patients on the optimal brushing habits. In some cases, you may also work with fillings for cavities and other dental prosthetics. You have to maintain a hygienic and sterile environment around the office and ensure that radiation from x-rays is contained in a safe manner.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

Most oral hygienists hold an associate's degree such as an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene. The American Dental Association (ADA)'s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredited almost 330 dental hygiene degree programs in 2014. In an associate's degree program, you would learn the theory and practice of radiography (x-ray technology), pathology, pharmacology and hygiene. Most dental hygiene programs seek to prepare you to take the national certification examination.

Do I Need to Be Licensed?

Oral hygienists are required to be licensed by the state in which they work. Though state requirements can vary slightly, most states require that you complete a CODA-accredited dental hygiene program before taking written and clinical examinations for licensure. The ADA's Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations offers the written segment of the examination, which is accepted nationally. The clinical segment is offered at the state or regional level, according to your jurisdiction. State licensure allows you to use the Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) credential.

What Salary Could I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2015 that dental hygienists made a median annual wage of $72,330. The BLS notes that dental hygienist is one of the most rapidly growing occupations because the demand for dental health professionals increases with an expanding population.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Other occupations that require short-term postsecondary awards include those of dental assistants and medical assistants. The duties of dental assistants vary, but most generally take X-rays and assist dentists during procedures. They may perform office tasks as well. Medical assistants work in healthcare settings in which they handle clinical and administrative duties, though some assistants may specialize in only administrative work.

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