Ultimate Guide to Dental Hygienists (Salary, Description, Requirements)

Are you interested in rewarding jobs with fantastic pay and plenty of opportunities to connect with real people and improve their lives? Dental hygienists are the behind-the-scenes superheroes that keep the dental industry afloat. Often responsible for discovering dental issues and ensuring patients have clean and healthy teeth, dental hygienists are one of the most in-demand, challenging, and ultimately enriching careers on the planet.

Here’s what you need to know.

What do Dental Hygienists Do?

Dental hygienists are warriors against diseases… dental diseases. While brushing and flossing every day can certainly help your teeth stay fresh and healthy, yearly dental cleanings are the backbone of good dental hygiene. And someone has to scrape the built-up plaque off of your teeth.

This is where dental hygienists come in. Not only are dental hygienists responsible for cleaning patients\’ teeth, scouting out gum and tooth disease, and educating patients on best practices for dental hygiene. They also perform a wide variety of regular and semi-regular tasks, including:

  • Communicating between patients and dentists
  • Documenting treatments and treatment plans
  • Discussing care options with patients and informing them of certain types of dental procedures (e.g., tooth whitening, etc.)
  • Polishing teeth
  • Performing radiographic imaging (e.g., x-rays)
  • Protecting teeth (e.g., by applying fluoride or sealants)

In fact, most dental office visits are handled by hygienists. By far, the most common reason for visiting a dental office is for preventative dental cleanings. In short, dental hygienists are the backbone of the dental industry, and they’re the frontline troops in the fight against dental diseases.

How Do You Become a Dental Hygienist?

In both Canada and the United States, dental hygienists require licensing. Generally, this involves attending a dental hygiene program at an accredited institution.

Education Requirements for Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists need to graduate from an accredited dental hygiene program. In the United States, the accreditation is provided by the American Dental Association (ADA) and is called CODA. In Canada, the CDAC provides accreditation. Without diving too deep into the nuance, accredited programs offer what are basically associate degrees in dental hygiene. Most programs are two years, and you only need a high school diploma or GED to attend (no former college experience required). Generally, this adds up to about 12 to 16 hours of hands-on practice and coursework per week.

In our digitally-drenched learning landscape, you have plenty of options when it comes to both schools and attendance styles. You can attend in person or online. There are also programs that provide weekend and late-night classes to accommodate those with jobs.

You can technically get a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in dental hygiene. If you want the honest truth, a bachelor’s in dental hygiene doesn’t really earn you any more money practicing hygiene than an associate\’s degree. Most pay differences come from location and working with the right businesses.

A bachelor’s degree is great if you want to go into dental hygiene teaching or academics.

Skill Requirements for a Dental Hygienist

During the degree process, dental hygienists will learn a variety of skills aimed at helping them perform in the workplace. These include:

  • Teeth cleaning techniques (e.g., how to wield tools, how to remove plaque, stains, and tartar, etc.)
  • Patient care practices (e.g., how to discuss treatment plans with patients, how to talk and engage with patients, etc.)
  • Working with radiographic equipment (e.g., taking x-rays, etc.)
  • Documentation processes that are required in modern dentistry
  • Patient education strategies
  • Applying fluorides or sealants
  • Administering anesthetics
  • Communication strategies (e.g., how to communicate effectively with patients, how to communicate with dentists, etc.)
  • Precision tool mastery (e.g., ultrasonic tools, power tools, etc.)

Outside of learned skills, there are plenty of soft skills that can help you during your career as a dental hygienist. These include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Attention-to-detail
  • Positive communication
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Hand dexterity

Traditional Dental Hygienist Pathway

After graduating from high school (or obtaining a GED equivalent), a prospective dental hygienist will attend an accredited dental hygiene program for at least two years. During those two years, you can expect around 12 – 16 hours of hands-on coursework, with some additional homework and studying.

During these two years, you will be responsible for completing primary examinations, called the National Dental Hygiene Certification Exam or the National Board Dental Examinations (NBDE). 

After passing these and becoming a full-fledged dental hygienist, your education is far from complete. In both the U.S. and Canada, you must earn a certain number of continued education credits every few years. Often, these are earned at dental conferences or events.

What is the Average Salary of Dental Hygienists in Canada?

The average pay for a dental hygienist in Canada is between $27/hr and $55/hr according to the Canadian Job Board data aggregated by the government. That’s obviously an extreme range. But, if we’re being completely honest, these figures only go so low because many hygienists get ripped off.

Without saying concrete figures (our pay is variable based on location, as the offices in those locations have variable pay), we pay over the “high range” of Job Board data across virtually every region.

When it comes to “average” salaries, there really are no hard-set averages. Pay changes yearly, and hygienists that work with best-in-class recruitment agencies typically outearn their counterparts.

Looking to secure above-the-board pay? Get in touch with us.

Which Province Pays Dental Hygienists the Most?

From our experience working with thousands of dental offices in Canada, Alberta generally pays the most. Saskatchewan also gets a shout. Job board data suggests Newfoundland and Labrador is also on the higher end.

Again, this data isn’t always true to life. Pays across this data are generally much lower than we get for our hygienists. So, we wouldn’t take this data too seriously.

What is the Average Salary of Dental Hygienists in the United States?

The average pay for dental hygienists in the United States is between $30 and $75 per hour. Again, this is a massive range. We will say this; if you’re making less than $45 an hour as a hygienist — across any state — you’re likely underpaid. In larger markets, $60 might be an underpay. 

We always hate seeing this data, because it showcases the unfortunate positions many hygienists are in. Lots of hygienists are making less than they should.

We recommend hygienists who are making below their worth find someone to help them advocate for themselves. We can help.

How to Earn More Money as a Dental Hygienist

We spend each and every day helping hygienists earn more money. It’s the entire reason our business exists. So, when it comes to boosting your pay, you have three main routes:

  • Temp for extra income: This is, by far, the easiest way to earn extra dough as a hygienist. You can always temp. Want to pick up an extra Saturday shift? Easy peasy. Our temps have instant access to shifts across any schedule they choose. You’ll get paid weekly, and we handle your deduction, workers’ compensation, and send you a single tax form at the end of the year. It’s easy. It’s lucrative. And, best of all, it’s always available.
  • Find a better job: Think you’re not making enough? Why not leave? We help dental hygienists find permenant positions with the right pay and the right benefits to fit their needs. Get in touch with us to learn more.
  • Ask for a raise: We always recommend asking for a raise if you feel undervalued. The truth is, you hold the cards. The dental hygienist shortage is massive. There’s a decent chance your dental office can’t afford to lose you.

Want to boost your income? Let’s talk! WORKFORCE is a strategic partner for hygienists. We help you find permanent positions, and give you the tools and technology you need to temp anywhere at anytime – on your schedule.

Dental Hygienist Resources

Here are some resources to help you learn more about becoming a dental hygienist:

Find a High Paying Dental Hygienist Work Today!

At WORKFORCE, we help dental hygienists across Canada and the US earn more money, live happier lives, and rekindle their love for dental work. We’ll help you experience a high-paying and rewarding dental career. Contact us to learn more.

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