With an annual, median salary of $79,000 per year and a projected job growth rate of 38 percent over the current decade, it’s no wonder why dental hygienists earned the number two spot on Forbes’ annual list, the Best Jobs in Health Care in 2014.
In 2012, Forbes also ranked dental hygienists first in its annual list, The Best Jobs that Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree, reporting an average starting salary of $45,000 and an income growth potential of 109 percent.
As a valuable member of the dental team, dental hygienists serve to treat and educate the patients they serve. As such, their job duties, although ultimately determined by the state in which they are licensed, typically include performing oral screenings, taking dental x-rays, scaling and polishing teeth, and applying preventive agents, just to name a few.
These licensed healthcare professionals must complete an accredited dental hygiene program and pass both written and clinical examinations to become state licensed.
Due to the broad range of duties and responsibilities, dental hygienists enjoy a competitive salary and a number of benefits. According to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental hygienists earned a mean, annual salary of $71,530, as of May 2013.
In comparison, dental assistants earned a mean, annual salary of $35,640 during the same period. Given that the educational path to becoming a dental hygienist typically takes just one year longer than that of a dental assistant (two years vs. one year), this career path has become quite attractive to many interested in entering the oral healthcare field.
Similar to many other types of healthcare professionals, the salary potential for a dental hygienist varies slightly based on a number of factors:
Dental Hygienist Salaries by Industry
As of May 2013, dentist offices were the main employers of dental hygienists, with a total of 183,380 dental hygienists found working in general practice dentistry. Physicians’ offices, coming in a far second, employed just 2,260 dental hygienists.
The top-paying industry for dental hygienists, according to the US Department of Labor, was ambulatory healthcare service providers where dental hygienists earned an annual, average salary of $83,360 per year.
As of May 2013, the second highest paying industry classification was business, professional, labor, political, and similar organizations, which paid dental hygienists an average annual salary of $72,600, followed by dentist offices coming in third at $71,860.
Dental Hygienist Salaries by Geographical Location
Dental hygienist salaries in the United States also vary slightly according to geographical location. District of Columbia’s dental hygienists earn the highest average salary at $93,940, followed closely by California’s dental hygienists who earn an average of $93,920, and Washington State’s dental hygienists who earn $92,610 on average.
According to a California Occupational Employment Statistics survey in 2014, the median dental hygienist salary was $100,312, with the top 25 percent of earners making more than $112,827.
California also came out on top for its employment level of dental hygienists (21,930), followed by Texas (12,590), and Florida (10,000). Although Texas and Florida both ranked at the top of the list for their employment of dental hygienists, salaries in these states were lower on average.
Considering the average salaries for California’s dental hygienists statewide, it comes as no surprise that the top-paying metropolitan areas for dental hygienists were located in California:
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City: $112,940
- Vallejo-Fairfield: $104,130
- Santa Rosa-Petaluma: $102,200
- Santa Cruz-Watsonville: $102,050
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale: $99,010
The US Department of Labor also offers a detailed analysis of salary data by earning percentile for dental hygienists practicing throughout the United States (2013):
Understanding Pay Structures and Incentives
Dental hygienists may be paid by the hour, they may be salary-based, or their earnings may vary based on their production:
Base hourly plus commission: A base hourly plus commission pay structure guarantees dental hygienists a minimum salary, while also providing them with incentive for efficient production.
Straight Commission: Dental hygienists who are paid as straight commission may be put in a financially risky situation, particularly in a new practice or one that is not always busy. However, dental hygienists in a straight commission scenario may earn about 33 percent of total hygiene production, thereby opening up the door for a higher salary than those paid a straight hourly salary.
Hourly plus bonus system: Bonuses for dental hygienists are commonplace, and many dentists use them as incentives for efficient production. Bonuses often equal between 10 and 20 percent of total services performed and billed for.