Dental hygienists work closely with dentists, much the same way a nurse does with a doctor in a private practice. The hygienist performs cleanings, administers preventive treatments like fluoride and may carry out some minor procedures, such as applying cavity-preventing sealants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming a hygienist requires completion of a licensing program, which takes up to two years and usually awards an associate's degree.
Location: With over 250 accreditation programs across the United States, job seekers in some areas may face greater competition for work than in areas where there are fewer educational programs available. The highest annual salaries are reported in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, Calif., topping out at $57.21 an hour. Hygienists in rural areas make significantly less, averaging around $33.90 an hour.
Average salary: The average salary for a dental hygienist working full-time is $63,670 a year, or $31.84 an hour. (Most hygienists work part time, at an hourly rate, or on commission based on the number of procedures preformed or patients seen, according to the BLS).
Tips for advancement: As with most medical professions, furthering education is the key to advancement. A hygienist with a bachelor's degree might seek to teach in a community education program, or work within a public school or public clinic setting.
Perks: Flexibility is the most common perk of the job. Variable hours, including nights, weekends, full or part time work are commonly available. Approximately half of all hygienists receive dental benefits, while 38 percent enjoy medical coverage and 12 percent are offered vision.
Tips for landing a raise: With fewer and fewer employers offering dental coverage, dentists have been forced to run their practices more like a business than ever before. Efficiency is the key to success, and a dental hygienist can increase a practice's value significantly by freeing the dentist to perform more complicated procedures. The first step to acquiring a raise is to use a salary calculator to determine the median average salaries offered in your area to workers with comparable experience and education. It also pays to be aware of the value you're bringing to the practice in terms of increased traffic (number of patients being seen) and efficiency. Appeal to the bottom line; point out how much money you are making the practice. When asking for a raise, also consider the cost of such perks as dental care and medical benefits (if any) as part of your salary. The more value you offer the dentist for his or her dollar, the more likely you are to be successful.