Even though you can become a dental hygienist with just a two-year degree, you’ll find these professionals pulling down serious salaries. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2019, dental hygienists earned an average of $77,230. Even better, the top earners that year reported making $103,340 or more. With incomes that crack the six-figure mark, dental hygienists are earning salaries that rival their bachelor’s and even master’s prepared colleagues in other healthcare professions.
Keep reading to learn more about where a career in dental hygiene can take you and how much you’ll earn along the way:
A High-Growth Profession with Lots More Room to Run
And even as a profession that has that magic formula of a relatively low barrier to entry and impressive salaries, there’s still a significant shortage of qualified professionals in the field. BLS surveys show that the number of jobs for hygienists will be increasing by 20% during the ten-year run-up to 2026 just to keep up with demand, a rapid rate of growth that outpaces just about every other profession the Bureau tracks, in healthcare and other fields.
And you might be surprised where a degree in this field can take you. Sure, you can practice in a dental office, but according to the American Dental Education Association, a career in dental hygiene can also take you out of the clinic and into areas like pharmaceutical and dental supplies sales, and even dental office management. Go back and earn your bachelor’s or even master’s degree in dental hygiene and you can focus your career on dental hygiene education or move into positions in administration and research.
Entry into the dental hygienist profession is pretty consistent state to state and includes completing a dental hygiene program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), passing the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, along with a state or regional clinical, jurisprudence, and ethics examination, and earning a state license to practice. Any entry-level CODA-accredited program will earn you eligibility to sit for the national board exam and earn state licensure, but the majority of dental hygienists begin their career by completing an associate’s degree.
The Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) Magazine released a report, “The State of the RDH Career in 2020,” which provides a clear picture of where today’s dental hygienists are working and how they’re paid.
The report revealed that the majority of dental hygienists (85%) work in private practice, while 10% report work in corporate dentistry (larger chain dentistry operations), and just 5% in other settings. In private practice settings, 64% of all dental hygienists work full-time, and in corporate dentistry settings, this number stands at 85%.
According to the BLS, dental hygienists working in dentist offices earned an annual, mean salary of $77,540 ($37.28/hour), as of May 2019; however, the BLS report did not break down the difference in salaries between private and corporate dentistry practices.
The report also found that it’s still a field where women find success, with 97% of all dental hygienist survey respondents identifying themselves as women.
Hourly, Straight Commission, and Other Production-Based Pay Structures Common for Dental Hygienists
Efficiency is the name of the game among dental hygienists. As a result, your earning potential will likely depend on your ability to keep your appointments running smoothly and on-time.
Most dental hygienists (80%) are paid hourly, largely due to the fact that various types of performance pay, including commissions and production-based pay, are common in large, corporate dental groups. In some cases, hourly wages give way to pay based on a percentage of performance for the practice, allowing hygienists to get a cut of the cleaning appointments booked.
Here’s a closer look at the three, main pay structures for dental hygienists:
Base hourly plus commission: A base hourly plus commission pay structure guarantees dental hygienists a minimum base-pay, while also providing them with a strong incentive for efficient production. In this arrangement, there is a lot to get excited about when the schedule is loaded with patients. With an hourly base pay, commission pay generally kicks in when the base production goal is achieved, earning a commission as high as 30% on all patient appointments billed above the baseline goal. If the baseline production goal is $600 in services for the day, and the hygienist handles $1,000 (which at $200-$300 per patient is very attainable), that’s $120 in commission for the day on top of base pay.
Straight commission: Dental hygienists in a straight commission scenario may earn as much as 33% of total production for patients booked for hygiene appointments. This opens up the door for a higher income than those paid a straight hourly rate or base-pay plus commission. Imagine if you saw eight patients in an eight-hour shift, all booked at $200 a piece, which is a very attainable target and a conservative rate. That works out to a $1,600 day for the dental practice, and a $528 payout to you, the hygienist. The straight commission arrangement does put hygienists in a potentially risky situation, particularly in a new practice or one that is not always busy, or even just on days where there happens to be a number of cancellations.
Hourly plus bonus: Bonuses for dental hygienists of between 10 and 20 percent of total services performed and billed are common. It’s sort of just a different take on the commission system that mitigates the risk of lost income, both for hygienists and the dental practice. Many dentists use bonuses since it can serve as an incentive for efficient production while helping promote the kind of customer service that keeps a steady stream of patients in the chair. This system gives hygienists the comfort of knowing they have a reliable base pay and the potential to make even more when the dental practice is successful. At the same time, it allows the practice to retain most of the money that comes in and allows for better forecasting of what quarterly and annual income will be.
State-by-State Analysis: A Closer Look at Dental Hygienist Salaries In Different Parts of the Country
The largest differences in salaries among dental hygienists can be attributed to location.
For example, according to the RDH Magazine report, while dental hygienists earn an average, annual salary of $90,000 in Washington D.C., those in Alabama earn an average of just $39,000. This isn’t particularly striking, considering the cost of living in our nation’s capital is considerably higher than it is in Alabama.
So, while a salary of $90,000 in Washington D.C. is nearly $15,000 more annually than the national average, once the cost of living here is considered (the price of rent/real estate, the price of groceries, the price of a gallon of gas, etc.), it falls more in line with what dental hygienists are earning in other parts of the country.
For a better idea of how the cost of living in a specific city or region affects how far your dollar will go, you can use this cost of living calculator. The calculator shows that a salary of $90,000 in Washington D.C. is equivalent to a salary of $49,829 in Huntsville, AL.
Largely in line with metro areas that report higher costs of living than the national average, the RDH Magazinereport revealed that the highest paying metro areas for dental hygienists included:
- San Francisco-Oakland: $57/hour
- Los Angeles: $51/hour
- San Diego: $49/hour
- Washington D.C.: $49/hour
- Seattle: $47/hour
It’s a similar story with stats from the BLS. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for dental hygienists as of May 2019 were largely located in the West:
- Alaska: $114,790 ($55.19/hour)
- California: $106,240 ($51.08/hour)
- Washington D.C.: $102,380 ($49.22/hour)
- Washington: $93,200 ($44.81/hour)
- Oregon: $87,270 ($41.96/hour)
According to the BLS, the highest-paying metro areas were all located in California, which is also likely due to the higher cost of living in this state:
- Santa Maria, CA (also includes Santa Barbara): $140,150 ($67.38/hour)
- San Jose, CA (also includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara): $120,420 ($57.89/hour)
- San Francisco, CA (also includes Oakland and Hayward): $113,940 ($54.78/hour)
- Santa Rosa, CA: $113,390 ($54.42/hour)
How does your state stack up? The BLS reports what dental hygienists are earning in your state at the 50th-90thpercentiles:
- Alabama: $49,040 – $61,160 ($23.58 – $29.40/hour) (approximately 3,790 registered dental hygienists)
- Alaska: $117,750 – $154,620 ($56.61 – $74.34/hour) (approximately 610 registered dental hygienists)
- Arizona: $87,460 – $101,580 ($42.05 – $48.84/hour) (approximately 3,650 registered dental hygienists)
- Arkansas: $71,190 – $95,440 ($34.22 – $45.88/hour) (approximately 1,550 registered dental hygienists)
- California: $107,530 – $132,930 ($51.70 – $63.91/hour) (approximately 23,320 registered dental hygienists)
- Colorado: $88,450 – $101,650 ($42.52 – $48.87/hour) (approximately 4,190 registered dental hygienists)
- Connecticut: $86,150 – $102,890 ($41.42 – $49.46/hour) (approximately 4,140 registered dental hygienists)
- Delaware: $84,420 – $99,960 ($40.59 – $48.06/hour) (approximately 650 registered dental hygienists)
- District of Columbia: $104,500 – $133,360 ($50.24 – $64.11/hour)
- Florida: $68,600 – $83,190 ($32.98 – $39.99/hour) (approximately 11,310 registered dental hygienists)
- Georgia: $64,710 – $93,680 ($31.11 – $45.04/hour) (approximately 6,410 registered dental hygienists)
- Hawaii: $84,480 – $100,090 ($39.65 – $48.12/hour) (approximately 1,000 registered dental hygienists)
- Idaho: $82,480 – $100,090 ($36.30 – $46.57/hour) (approximately 1,880 registered dental hygienists)
- Illinois: $73,490 – $96,280 ($35.33 – $46.29/hour) (approximately 9,080 registered dental hygienists)
- Indiana: $70,770 – $90,160 ($34.02 – $43.34/hour) (approximately 5,030 registered dental hygienists)
- Iowa: $71,230 – $82,510 ($34.24 – $39.67/hour) (approximately 2,250 registered dental hygienists)
- Kansas: $70,250 – $82,760 ($33.78 – $39.79/hour) (approximately 2,120 registered dental hygienists)
- Kentucky: $61,700 – $77,340 ($29.66 – $37.19/hour) (approximately 2,270 registered dental hygienists)
- Louisiana: $67,460 – $89,240 ($32.43 – $42.90/hour) (approximately 2,300 registered dental hygienists)
- Maine: $67,250 – $81,470 ($32.33 – $39.17/hour) (approximately 1,040 registered dental hygienists)
- Maryland: $90,280 – $105,320 ($43.41 – $50.63/hour) (approximately 4,010 registered dental hygienists)
- Massachusetts: $86,560 – $101,350 ($41.62 – $48.73/hour) (approximately 6,460 registered dental hygienists)
- Michigan: $65,780 – $80,970 ($31.63 – $38.93/hour) (approximately 9,140 registered dental hygienists)
- Minnesota: $75,050 – $93,870 ($31.63 – $38.93/hour) (approximately 5,070 registered dental hygienists)
- Mississippi: $57,860 – $73,480 ($27.82 – $35.33/hour) (approximately 1,370 registered dental hygienists)
- Missouri: $70,180 – $89,760 ($33.74 – $43.15/hour) (approximately 4,100 registered dental hygienists)
- Montana: $75,730 – $95,840 ($36.41 – $46.08/hour) (approximately 780 registered dental hygienists)
- Nebraska: $69,110 – $79,390 ($33.23 – $38.17/hour) (approximately 1,040 registered dental hygienists)
- Nevada: $89,570 – $102,120 ($43.06 – $49.10/hour) (approximately 2,540 registered dental hygienists)
- New Hampshire: $80,620 – $100,640 ($38.76 – $48.39/hour) (approximately 1,510 registered dental hygienists)
- New Jersey: $89,930 – $101,960 ($43.23 – $49.02/hour) (approximately 6,790 registered dental hygienists)
- New Mexico: $78,120 – $104,280 ($37.56 – $50.14/hour) (approximately 1,180 registered dental hygienists)
- New York: $77,790 – $100,390 ($37.40 – $48.26/hour) (approximately 11,620 registered dental hygienists)
- North Carolina: $71,450 – $88,990 ($34.35 – $42.78/hour) (approximately 7,090 registered dental hygienists)
- North Dakota: $72,270 – $93,280 ($34.75 – $44.85/hour) (approximately 600 registered dental hygienists)
- Ohio: $68,700 – $83,290 ($33.03 – $40.04/hour) (approximately 9,670 registered dental hygienists)
- Oklahoma: $79,410 – $100,090 ($38.18 – $48.12/hour) (approximately 2,600 registered dental hygienists)
- Oregon: $88,620 – $104,910 ($42.61 – $50.44/hour) (approximately 3,810 registered dental hygienists)
- Pennsylvania: $67,910 – $88,120 ($32.65 – $42.37/hour) (approximately 9,220 registered dental hygienists)
- Rhode Island: $74,710 – $89,760 ($35.92 – $43.16/hour) (approximately 1,100 registered dental hygienists)
- South Carolina: $62,530 – $83,010 ($30.06 – $39.91/hour) (approximately 3,240 registered dental hygienists)
- South Dakota: $68,800 – $81,560 ($33.08 – $39.21/hour) (approximately 550 registered dental hygienists)
- Tennessee $69,970 – $83,290 ($33.64 – $40.04/hour) (approximately 4,180 registered dental hygienists)
- Texas: $76,830 – $98,770 ($36.94 – $47.49/hour) (approximately 14,310 registered dental hygienists)
- Utah: $71,030 – $81,880 ($34.15 – $39.37/hour) (approximately 2,770 registered dental hygienists)
- Vermont: $73,350 – $83,970 ($35.26 – $40.37/hour) (approximately 620 registered dental hygienists)
- Virginia: $81,760 – $102,700 ($39.31 – $49.38/hour) (approximately 5,980 registered dental hygienists)
- Washington: $95,080 – $119,820 ($45.71 – $57.61/hour) (approximately 6,660 registered dental hygienists)
- West Virginia: $58,450 – $83,420 ($28.10 – $40.11/hour) (approximately 1,050 registered dental hygienists)
- Wisconsin: $69,050 – $80,100 ($33.20 – $38.51/hour) (approximately 5,070 registered dental hygienists)
- Wyoming: $71,170 – $81,630 ($34.22 – $39.24/hour) (approximately 490 registered dental hygienists)
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which dental hygienists work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
Salary and employment data compiled by RDH Magazine’s ‘The State of the RDH Career in 2020.’ Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which dental hygienists work. This data does not represent starting salaries.
All salary and employment data accessed September 2020.