While the dentist gets all the glory, dental hygienists do much of the work during routine visits. Learn more about this in-demand and well-compensated career.

Some people assume dental hygienists merely clean teeth before the dentist sees them. And while that's true, the job consists of much more.

Dental hygienists are often on the front lines of good oral care and perform all the following duties:

  • Educating patients on proper oral care.
  • Removing tarter and plaque build-up from teeth.
  • Taking and developing x-rays of teeth.
  • Applying sealants and fluoride.

It's an important technical medical support field with a potentially excellent future. Here's what you need to know before becoming a dental hygienist.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist can be a very rewarding career and the requirements are straightforward.

  1. The minimum requirement to work as a dental hygienist is an associate degree from an accredited program, with an additional license.
  2. After earning an associate degrees, aspiring hygienists must take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.
  3. Finally prospective hygienists must pass a clinical licensure test for their state or region.

Becoming a dental hygienist typically requires an associate's degree in dental hygiene. Bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene also exist, though they're less common. In these programs, you'll likely do laboratory, clinical, and classroom instruction, and study nutrition, anatomy, physiology, periodontology (the study of gum disease) and radiography.

You're also required, regardless of what state you live in, to become licensed. In most states, becoming licensed requires obtaining a degree from an accredited dental hygiene program and passing grades on written and practical examinations. To find out for sure, though, you should contact your state's medical or health board.

Dental Hygienist Specializations

Once licensed, the American Dental Hygienists Association says professionals in the field may pursue work in one of the following career paths, among others.

  • Clinician: The most common role for a dental hygienist is that of a clinician. They may work for a dentist in a private practice or be employed by a hospital, school or the government to provide oral care in other settings.
  • Public health professional: Public health workers may be employed by the government to administer programs, set up rural clinics or provide outreach services to vulnerable populations.
  • Educator: The field requires competent educators to prepare the next generation of dental hygienists, and seasoned professionals in the field may be hired by colleges and universities as either clinical or classroom instructors.
  • Researcher: Some dental hygienists become involved in research regarding how to improve oral health. They may be employed by non-profit organizations, colleges and universities or government agencies.

Dental Hygienist Salary and Career Outlook

As with any job, salaries for dental hygienists depends on things like location, experience and education level completed. Here's an idea of dental hygienist salary and job growth numbers to expect in the coming years, courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Dental Hygienists221,560$77,230
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Article Sources

How to Become a Dental Hygienist

Article Sources
  • Dental Hygienists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, retrieved Dec. 1, 2014,
  • Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014: Dental Hygienists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  • Dental Hygienists, Long Term Occupational Projections, 2012-2022, Projections Central,
  • Career Paths, ADHA,
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