Dental Hygienist Salary

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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):

Area name
Employment
Annual mean wage
Alabama
2590
46530
Alaska
520
73500
Arizona
3650
81220
Arkansas
1350
61030
California
21930
93920
Colorado
3980
77110
Connecticut
3840
80210
Delaware
660
73370
District of Columbia
490
93940
Florida
10000
61110
Georgia
5130
62270
Guam
100
32530
Hawaii
960
71280
Idaho
1140
72060
Illinois
7810
66060
Indiana
4860
65040
Iowa
2270
67190
Kansas
1700
67510
Kentucky
1980
56450
Louisiana
1760
59930
Maine
1030
67730
Maryland
2770
80490
Massachusetts
5700
79630
Michigan
9680
60300
Minnesota
4530
70120
Mississippi
1060
50240
Missouri
2820
70250
Montana
650
67510
Nebraska
1250
63200
Nevada
1440
85850
New Hampshire
1250
78680
New Jersey
5580
80460
New Mexico
910
70600
New York
9850
67450
North Carolina
5910
66360
North Dakota
580
62490
Ohio
7610
64960
Oklahoma
1940
61830
Oregon
3600
79650
Pennsylvania
8810
60940
Rhode Island
1050
71000
South Carolina
2340
55070
South Dakota
490
60420
Tennessee
3410
62640
Texas
12590
71010
Utah
2230
67970
Vermont
570
67530
Virgin Islands
30
57460
Virginia
4240
79230
Washington
5640
92610
West Virginia
1110
51510
Wisconsin
4620
62420
Wyoming
450
67400

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.