Dental hygienists are responsible for cleaning the teeth of patients when they visit the dentist for their regular checkup. This position will have you examining patients to see if there are any signs of oral diseases like gingivitis. You will also be asked by your employer to provide other forms of preventative dental care, such as placing sealants on teeth or preparing for braces and extractions.
Another part of the job when you start being a dental hygienist is to educate people on how to take better care of their teeth. Your goal is to help them improve their overall health, and then maintain the benefits which you can give them through your work. Almost all dental hygienists work in a dental office, and over half of the current positions are classified as part-time employment in the United States.
You must receive a degree in dental hygiene before you can practice this profession, which usually takes between 2 to 3 years to complete when you add in the time for licensure. The requirements can vary by state, so if you are interested in this position or career, you will need to review what is required of you locally.
Then you will want to consider each of these pros and cons of being a dental hygienist.
List of the Pros of Being a Dental Hygienist
1. You can work almost anywhere as a dental hygienist.
Almost every dentist that is working anywhere around the world will have an employment opportunity for a dental hygienist. It is one of the fastest growing areas of the healthcare industry in the United States right now as well. The number of positions which are expected to be open in the next decade will increase by over 20% if the projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are correct. That means you are about twice as likely to find an employment opportunity with this career option compared to all careers which are available in America.
2. Working as a dental hygienist can get you a decent salary or hourly wage.
Because most dentists employ dental hygienists as a way to increase the number of patients that can be served each day, you will find that the competitive nature of this career choice and its educational stipulations create a highly competitive environment. The wages which are possible because of this advantage can help you maintain the lifestyle you want while still working part time.
The average hourly wage for a dental hygienist in the United States is currently $35 per hour. If you are working in a full-time position, then this equates to a median salary of $75,000 per year. You will earn a little more or less depending on your geographic location and overall experience in this industry. Even if you can only find 20 hours of work per week, this wage is the equivalent of earning $17.50 per hour in a full-time job.
3. Your work is always appreciated, even if it does not feel that way at times.
When you talk to dental hygienists, one of the most common complaints that you will hear is that their work feels like it is unappreciated by their employers and their patients. The expertise that you bring to this job makes you a highly valued member of a person’s treatment team. You are responsible for the direct services that can lead to an improvement of a patient’s oral health.
Why is this critical? Because there is a direct link between the quality of oral care that a person receives and their cardiovascular health. As the 65 and older age category continues to rise, the need to provide comprehensive cleaning and maintenance services will keep expanding. Your influence can literally help someone live a longer, more fulfilling life.
4. This job helps you to build many community relationships.
Even though up to 10% of people are afraid of going to the dentist, your work as a hygienist can help to calm nerves and build relationships. There are numerous opportunities for socialization as you work to improve or maintain a person’s oral health in your chair. People of all ages are going to come through each day, from the elderly to toddlers, giving you a chance to experience the energy of each interaction.
There are plenty of challenges that you will face with this career, but the same can be said of most jobs. You get the privilege of sharing life events with your patients because you are providing a critical service for them. You can bounce ideas off of them, listen to their struggles, and form unique friendships that you never thought were possible before starting to work in this field.
5. You have plenty of opportunities to flex your hours as a dental hygienist.
Because half of the open opportunities in the United States for dental hygienist work is classified as part-time, there are several ways that you can create a flexible schedule for yourself while still maintaining a fruitful career. Even if you work on a part-time basis, the average salary in the United States is $37,000 per year – and some dentists even offer benefits with those requirements.
You can also take advantage of the part-time nature of this work to turn your associates degree in dental hygiene into a bachelor’s degree in dentistry. If you have a busy family schedule, then this job can accommodate what you need to do. It is even possible to work a profitable side hustle while you pursue this career opportunity.
6. The educational requirements to get started as a dental hygienist are minimal.
Most people can begin their work as a dental hygienist when they have an associates degree in dental hygiene or a similar field. Some institutions can provide you with a certificate that is equal to this results that you can earn in 9 to 12 months. If you are in high school and have the opportunity to dual enroll at a local junior college, then you could earn your high school diploma and this degree simultaneously so that you can get right to work. Then all you would need to do is obtain whatever license is necessary in your jurisdiction.
Once you can prove that you have the education necessary to do the work as a dental hygienist, then you can work at almost any dentist office in or around your community. You can put your skills to work in some public health agencies or community clinics as well. A growing trend in the United States is to have professionals in this area provide services at public schools as a way to provide better oral health options to children in low-income areas.
List of the Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
1. You are going to be doing the same work all day, every day.
Dental hygienists are responsible for doing the same kind of work at the chair all day, every day. If you are someone who likes to have a lot of variation in your daily routine, then this is not the job that you are going to want. The only way that you can create change in your life when this is your vocational choice is to start working for a different dentist. You can certainly receive a lot of social energy when working in this job, but the actual tasks lack variety.
Because the work you are doing as a dental hygienist is often repetitive, this position is a strong candidate for automation or artificial intelligence intervention.
2. Some people hate everything about the dentist office – including you.
There is a fear in the general population of going to the dentist that is present for a variety of reasons. Some people are scared of the pain that can occur during the cleaning or treatment processes you start. There are concerns about the cost of receiving treatment since dental coverage is not always part of a healthcare plan. Some patients might even be in pain when they come to see you because of a tooth infection, abscess, or some other oral health issue.
That means you can encounter plenty of terrible moods over the course of your day. The nature of this job also means that you will see tooth decay, plaque, halitosis, and several other conditions on a regular basis that could be bothersome. If you have a weak stomach, then this career option might not be the first choice to consider.
3. You can find yourself working in some challenging environments.
Dental hygienists typically follow the same pay scale no matter where they choose to work. Although more experience can lead to a higher salary offer, that is not always the case if you choose to work in a smaller practice. Many workers in this field say that they are not valued as highly as they should be, which often translates to a lower wage offer.
It is not unusual for a recent graduate to be making a salary which is similar to someone with more than a decade of experience as a dental hygienist. That means you can hit the wage ceiling pretty early in your career, so that is why it is not unusual for people in this profession to pursue a side hustle or hobby that can earn them some extra cash.
4. Your employer will become the foundation of your reputation.
Another reason why some patients refuse to go to the dentist is because they feel like the services they receive are a rip off. Although the good people in this industry far outweigh the bad dentists, there can be a lack of trust when two different offices provide a radically different diagnosis and treatment estimate. Some people have been told that they have five cavities to fill by one provider, only to receive a clean bill of health from another.
Upselling is on the rise in this industry, partially due to the rising cost of tuition and debt that occurs. If your dentist earns a reputation as being a swindler, then that is what yours will be as well. That is why it is imperative to monitor how your community views your employer and make changes as needed to maintain your career.
5. There is a lack of career variety as a dental hygienist.
Most dentists hire dental hygienists as a way to complete specific procedures for their patients. That means there are rarely any advancement opportunities in this industry. Pursuing this career option gives you a certain level of job security, but it also means that you are creating a specific position for yourself within the dental industry. If you want upward mobility with your career and an opportunity to earn more money without the requirement to pursue another advanced degree, that being a dental hygienist might not be right for you.
6. Your workload can be exceptionally heavy on some shifts.
Dentists tend to make money when they are able to pack in more patients per hour into their office. Every screening, teeth cleaning service, and cavity you are asked to work on creates a source of revenue for your employer. It is not unusual to have your days be filled with a lot of busy work, and then have your boss take a final look at what you have done as a method of quality assurance.
Some offices require a rapid pace where there may be a little, if any, downtime between patients. If you are unable to meet the service demands that your employer desires, there are enough dental hygienists looking for employment that your position can be filled without much of a delay.
7. You will face issues with burnout eventually as a dental hygienist.
Many dental hygienists eventually wear out because of the repetition that occurs in this industry. There are offices where you will find yourself putting in long hours, trying to manage high levels of stress, and then try to manage your personal responsibilities after all of that work is done. Even though the schedules for this industry tend to be more flexible than the average job, there is also an expectation to perform that is much higher than you will find in other careers.
For some people, this isn’t a disadvantage because they find energy in the struggle to be productive. If you put a 100% effort into this career from the moment you graduate, you might also find yourself looking for a different job within a few years.
8. There is a lot of competition for open jobs in this industry.
Because there are minimal barriers to entry when you want to work as a dental hygienist, this industry sees a lot of interest from people who are looking for employment. Some communities can have more trained workers available then positions. If you do not have plans to move, then it is imperative to review the market conditions for this career opportunity to avoid a long spell of unemployment because there is a lack of available jobs.
Because each state or province can have differing requirements for licensure as a dental hygienist, you will want to confirm where you plan to live after graduation to avoid duplicating the costs of being able to work. Some regions may recognize a license that you earn elsewhere, but that outcome is not guaranteed.
9. You must stay in excellent physical shape as a dental hygienist.
Even though it might seem easy to hunch over a patient as you work on their teeth, it requires a lot of stamina to stay in a seated position throughout most of your shift. Although you will get some exercise moving around to each patient, this career option is mostly sedentary. You will want to create a fitness plan that supports your physical well-being as you enter your first job to ensure that your health and wellness do not go into decline.
There is not a lot of time in most of these jobs where you can give your mind some rest or close your eyes to find some peace. If you are having a bad day for some reason, it can be a challenge to recover when you are in the middle of your shift.
Are You Ready to Become a Dental Hygienist?
If you are looking for a job which offers a competitive income, plenty of opportunities to find job security, and some flexibility with your scheduling, then becoming a dental hygienist could be the right choice to make. This job is one of the few that can offer these benefits while still providing you with an opportunity to change each person’s life in a positive way when you provide them with services.
Many dental hygienists say that their favorite part of working in this industry is the interaction they receive with their patients. You will hear interesting stories every day about the lives that people lead when they are not sitting in your chair. If you are willing to listen, there are plenty of opportunities to learn from the nuggets of wisdom that people will share.
The pros and cons of being a dental hygienist work to balance routine duties with a useful income to ensure that you can have the needs of your family met in an effective way. There are challenges to face in each shift, but that is a principle which holds true with most jobs. If you can make the investment into your education and training, then this career will pay dividends back to you until your retirement.
Natalie Regoli is a seasoned writer, who is also our editor-in-chief. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.