According to the American Dental Association, a dental hygienist is someone who performs a wide variety of services to meet the oral health needs of the patients they serve. The range of services that you can provide depends on what the local regulations permit in your region. Most will perform patient screening procedures, such as an overall assessment of the health of each patient. A review of their medical history, cancer screening, and charting their vitals is also standard work.
Some dental hygienists are tasked with taking x-rays of a patient’s teeth. You may be asked to remove the plaque and calculus that forms on the tooth surface. Some workers are asked to apply preventative materials, such as fluoride or sealants, while teaching care strategies that can improve oral health.
Performing documentation, office management duties, and counseling patients about nutrition may be part of your regular job duties as well.
If you are looking for a fast, fun, and easy way to break into a healthcare field for your career, then you will want to review the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist.
List of the Pros of Being a Dental Hygienist
1. This area of employment continues to grow around the world.
Compared to other career options that are available in the healthcare industry, a dental hygienist has more opportunities to find work than other positions. According to information published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job opportunities available in this career field are expected to increase by more than 20% through the year 2029. That rate is roughly double that of the median for all employment opportunities in the United States.
2. You can earn a highly competitive salary as a dental hygienist.
Almost every dentist office will hire at least one dental hygienist to provide help with the services that patients require. Because you must go through specialized training to offer the services that are wanted, you can earn a highly competitive salary in the United States. The median wage for this career opportunity in the U.S. pays over $35 per hour, which equates to approximately $75,000 per year. The final offer that you receive will depending on your employment status, geographic location, and overall experience.
3. The schooling requirements for dental hygienists is minimal.
For most people an associate’s degree in dental hygiene is all that is necessary to qualify for employment in this field. Most people can complete the educational requirements through community college programs in two years or less. Some high schools may offer the option of advancement placement or dual enrollment that can allow you to enter this field right after you earn your diploma. Then all you need to do is acquire the licensure or certification that your state or country mandates for you to work with patients.
Once you have the proper credentials, then you can work almost anywhere where this job position is advertised in your state. That means your skills can be put to use in community clinics, dental offices, and even some public health agencies. Even some school districts are hiring dental hygienists to perform services for their students in a manner that is similar to a school nurse.
4. There may be opportunities to flex your schedule in this career.
Because you may have the option to work full-time or part-time with this career option, you can earn a decent living even if you only work 20 hours per week in this job. Going off of the median wage, you can still top about $37,000 by working part-time in some communities. That means you could be working half of the hours of others while earning a comparable wage. You can have more time to pursue your interests then, including a second job in another field if that is where your passion lies.
You could also take your 2-year degree in dental hygiene and turn it into a 4-year undergraduate degree in the field of dentistry while still earning a living doing something that you love. You can be an involved parent with this advantage if you have a family. It is rare that you will work weekends, holidays, or even nights in most situations.
5. You can find a lot of personal satisfaction in this career.
If you love to work with people, then the field of dental hygiene can help you experience high levels of satisfaction each day. You will get to socialize with a wide variety of individuals of all ages. You’re also going to get to work with kids a lot in this practice, which can be a definite advantage for some. Even though there are plenty of challenges that you will face with this career option, you will also discover that the levels of personal fulfillment are exceptionally high.
You are often able to share in the life events of your patients, developing relationships with them that are closer than you might expect. They will share ideas with you, and then you can bounce thoughts off of them sometimes too. You will discover that the dental family can be a positive component of who you are as a person.
6. There is a certain level of prestige that comes with this position.
Even though some dental hygienists feel far from appreciated, the expertise that they bring to a treatment team for a patient is highly valued. Their education and clinical training allow them to offer valuable insights into the health of a patient because they are the ones who are providing many of the direct services. An enhanced level of job security is present because of this advantage as well, with employment opportunities continuing to grow. As Baby Boomers get older and retain their teeth longer, your influence on the importance of regular dental care can help everyone be more aware of the need for dental services.
List of the Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
1. You will experience a lack of career variety with this position.
Although your education in this field can help you to land a job almost anywhere there is an open position, you are also creating a specific position for yourself that really offers no advancement opportunities. Most dentists hire dental hygienists to help them with specific procedures, offering a competitive salary structure for their services. If you are the type of person who likes upward mobility in your career or an opportunity to try new things regularly, then this job option might not be the best fit.
2. The job you have will never really change.
Because there are limited opportunities available to you as a dental hygienist, the only way to create change in your life is to move to a different office. Even then, you will still be performing the same tasks every day. This job is highly repetitive, which means it is also at a higher risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence and automation in the future. You might see different people every day and work on their teeth, you are still performing the same exercises all of the time with this career option.
3. You will have the opportunity to serve the occasional unpleasant patient.
There are a number of reasons why people hate going to the dentist, including the fear of drills or the inconvenience and pain that some procedures cause. The top reason why people skip going to the dentist is because of the cost of services. That means when people do eventually stop by to receive care, their oral health may not be in the best of shape. You will also encounter plenty of bad moods while they are sitting in your chair, thinking about the costs they will pay for the work you are doing.
Not everyone is like this when you start serving their needs, but if you are the kind of person who can’t stand bad breath or looking at teeth that could use some help, then being a dental hygienist is probably not the right option for you.
4. There may not be any full-time positions available in your community.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost half of all dental hygienists in the United States are only working part-time. That means you might still be able to earn a median wage above $30 per hour, but you might only be putting in 3-5 hours of work each day. Although that level of income can support a family in some areas, it may not be enough to satisfy the demands of the lifestyle you want. There may not even be full-time employment opportunities in your community, which means you might need to move somewhere else to take advantage of your career options.
Because many officers are small private practices, many of them cannot afford to offer paid sick leave, retirement contributions, or health insurance unless their community requires it. That means you may not have access to the same level of benefits that other healthcare providers offer unless you work for a larger chain practice.
5. You may face several mental challenges in this line of work.
Many dental hygienists find that they feel under-paid and under-valued after they gain some experience in this field. Many dentists offer the same salary or hourly wage to workers whether they have several years of experience working with patients or if they are fresh off of their graduation ceremony. Because you hit the glass ceiling very early in your career when you choose this line of work, you must find satisfaction in how you can help others in a clinical environment.
6. The reputation of your dentist will become a reflection of who you are to your community.
There are some dentists who exaggerate the condition of a patient’s teeth or oral health because more services will equate to additional income for themselves and their office. There are greedy dentists out there who purposely misinterpret x-ray results, lie about the presence of cavities, and may even recommend services that are not necessary. If you are a dental hygienist in that situation, then the reputation of that office will become part of who you are – whether you want it to be or not. There are plenty of great dentists out there who do their best to meet the needs of their patient. You will also find many with an undesirable reputation.
7. Workloads for dental hygienists can be extraordinarily heavy on some days.
Most of what dental patients pay for (or can afford) when visiting their dentist is the regular teeth cleaning, some screenings, or the occasional cavity or extraction. That means you are going to be doing a lot of the busy work with each patient while the dentist comes in to finish checking your work. By maintaining high productivity levels, a higher profit margin is obtainable for the practice. You are going to be asked to maintain a rapid pace to get through as many services as possible. If you’re unable to meet the production demands, then your employer might decide to terminate on the position because there is a recent graduate who might be willing to do that work.
8. There is very little reciprocity between states for dental hygienist certification.
If you become a dental hygienist, then your certification allows you to provide services in your home state. When you start thinking about a move, then you will need to recertify after you finalize your relocation. Although there is a little bit of reciprocity in this field across the United States, most governments will require that you take their tests before you can start working, which usually comes at a price that you’ll need to pay for out of your budget. Moving a lot means you will want to take the jurisprudence exam, and then maintain your licenses in every state where you might want to settle one day.
9. This job can take a toll on your physical well-being.
The nature of being a dental hygienist can be very taxing on the human body. It is very common for employees in this field to be dealing with wrist, back, or neck problems because of their assigned duties. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a very real issue to proactively combat when you receive an employment offer. Since there is not a lot of time to rest your eyes or give your brain a break during the day, the stamina requirements can be problematic for anyone if they are having an off day for some reason.
10. The job ratio for dental hygienists may not be positive in some communities.
Although the employment opportunities for dental hygienists are rising, schools today are graduating a lot of people who are ready to start their career. That means there is more competition for the open positions at dental offices since there are more people available than there are opportunities. You will want to review the job market in your area before pursuing this type of opportunity to ensure that your training and licensure can bring your family a financial return one day.
11. Burnout is a real risk in this career field.
Burnout is a problem in almost every healthcare field today. Many workers are putting in long hours, dealing with high levels of stress, and then face the challenges of raising a family and all of the other responsibilities that are necessary in modern life. Although dental hygienists do work better hours than nurses and other professionals, the amount of work that they perform each day can quickly lead to burnout. Some people thrive on the requirements of their job responsibilities, but it can affect others in negative ways. Since you will find it more challenging to continue performing at high levels toward the end of your career, it can feel like you peak early when this is the opportunity you pursue.
12. You are going to face some challenging issues over the course of your career.
You will see patients that are very lacking in their home care of their teeth in your work as a dental hygienist. It is not unusual to face issues like blood in the mouth or gum disease on a regular basis. Heavy stains, tartar build-up, and bad breath are extremely common in this work. It doesn’t bother some people, but there are individuals who become nauseous when exposed to these circumstances.
One Final Thought on the Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist
When you can find work as a dental hygienist, then you have a chance to change someone’s life for the better. You have no idea what that person may have encountered before they walk through that door. Instead of worrying about their past, you can focus on one thing: how that person can obtain the optimal oral health that each person deserves.
“One of my favorite parts of being a hygienist is how much time I get to spend with my patients,” says Amber Metro Sanchez, RDH. “I’ve heard many interesting stories, from what it’s like to travel to Iceland to what it’s like to live to age 97.” This job is an opportunity to enrich your life on a daily basis if that is your priority.
The pros and cons of being a dental hygienist balance the desire to earn a fair, competitive wage in a healthcare field while managing sometimes challenging situations. This type of work is not for everyone. If you have a drive to help people and don’t mind the occasional patient with challenging physical or emotional needs, then the 2-year (or less) requirement for training could help you to start a new career in very little time. Consider each key point carefully before finalizing your decision.
About the Author of this Article
Crystal Ayres is a seasoned writer, who has been serving as our editor-in-chief for the last five years. She is a proud veteran, wife and mother. Vittana's goal is to publish high quality content on some of the biggest issues that our world faces. If you would like to contact Crystal, then go here to send her a message.