How to become a dental hygienist

Many people — both children and adults — dread trips to the dentist, but a good dental hygienist can often alleviate that anxiety by putting patients at ease in the beginning of the visit. The American Dental Association notes that dental hygienists' responsibilities extend beyond taking X-rays and cleaning teeth. They serve to make clients comfortable, and they also educate them about nutrition and oral hygiene. In addition to being a rewarding one, this is also a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that dental hygienists could see 33 percent growth nationally between 2012 and 2022. That's three times as robust as the 11 percent average growth expected for all occupations in the U.S.

What are the educational requirements for dental hygienists?

The minimum requirement to work as a dental hygienist is an associate degree from an accredited program, as well as a license. After earning their associate degrees, aspiring hygienists must take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and then pass a clinical licensure test for their state or region. Each state may have different methods for earning a license so please consult your state health board for more information about local requirements.

How much can dental hygienists make?

Working as a dental hygienist has the potential to be a very lucrative career. Data from the BLS show that in 2013 the national mean annual wage for dental hygienists was $71,530, with the highest-paid 10 percent making at least $96,690 per year and the lowest-paid 10 percent making up to $47,880. The BLS also provides data about the top five states for dental hygiene wages in the country in 2013. They were:

  • District of Columbia: $93,940
  • California: $93,920
  • Washington: $92,610
  • Nevada: $85,850
  • Arizona: $81,220

Where can dental hygienists work?

With the BLS projecting solid growth through 2022, there are likely to be plenty of job possibilities for where to work as a dental hygienist. The American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) calls out seven different areas that have career potential. They include:

  • Clinics
  • Corporations
  • Public Health
  • Research
  • Education
  • Administration
  • Entrepreneurship

Regarding the geographic options, Projections Central's website lists the best states for dental hygienists when it comes to job growth through 2020, including:

  • Georgia: 48.3% growth
  • Utah: 40.9% growth
  • South Carolina: 34.9% growth

It's often said that a great smile is the best accessory, and you could be part of making that happen. For more details on how to become a dental hygienist and to see a full list of sources, check out the infographic below.


Education and Careers: Career Paths, American Dental Hygienists Association,

Long Term Occupational Projections for Dental Hygienists, Projections Central,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Dental Hygienists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Dental Hygienists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

How to Become a Denal Hygienist
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