Unlock Your Potential: Dental Hygiene Career Options

Unlock Your Potential: Dental Hygiene Career Options

Are you considering a career in dental hygiene, but are not sure if it’s the right choice? You may be glad to know that there are multiple career options available in the field of dental care. Your options range from dental assistants to dentists, and even dental laboratory technicians. There are a variety of roles you can pursue within the dental practice.

In this article, we’ll explore six great dental hygiene career options. Each comes with its own unique responsibilities, education requirements, and salary range.

A pine forest with a primary path, where a smaller path branches off to the right. It is a symbol for choosing the right direction in life.
Choosing the right dental hygiene career option

Whether you look for a quick entry into the job market or are willing to learn and train for 8 years, there are options for you. Some options work directly with patients, while others manage a dental office, or teach about oral health. There is even an option if you prefer to work with materials over people.

1. Dental Assistant

A dental assistant is a healthcare professional working closely with dentists to provide patient care. A dental assistant performs a variety of tasks, such as:

  • assisting the dentist at the chair
  • preparing patients for treatment
  • sterilizing dental instruments
  • hardening fillings
  • preparing materials such as fillings or the gum for imprints
Salary range$29,580 – $59,540 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook8% growth 2021 – 2031, faster than average
EducationAt Least 1 year of training at a community college or vocational school.

Becoming a dental assistant is an alternative for those that want to qualify quickly for a job. Training as a dental assistant costs much less than training for a dental hygienist. Yet, the job pays much less than a dental hygienist and one’s work is dependent on the dentist.

2. Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional. He or she provides preventive and therapeutic services to patients. They typically work in dental offices, clinics, or hospitals.

Salary range$60,100 – $100,200 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook9% growth 2021 – 2031, more than average
EducationAt Least 2 years of associate’s degree at college or community college. Also, a 4-year bachelor’s degree is an option.

As a dental hygienist, you are a respected professional. You will work independently and in collaboration with a dentist. Yet, you will sign an employment contract and work under the supervision of a dentist at her office.

The pay difference for a dental assistant is significant. But, it requires a higher investment in money and time to become a dental hygienist than to become a dental assistant. [[*]] Dental hygienists have to pass the clinical examinations. This is a condition to register with the state government.

Besides time and expenses, you will have to study hard, as dental hygienist programs are competitive.

3. Dentist

A dentist is a licensed healthcare professional. As a dentist, you diagnose and treat oral health conditions. Common oral health conditions are tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer.

Salary range$62,810 – >$200,800 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook6% growth in 2021 – 2031, slightly more than average
Education8 – 11 years of studies. First, you need an undergraduate degree, typically a bachelor’s. Then 4 years of graduate studies in a dental program. Optionally, but common is a residency of 3 + years in a clinic.

Dentists usually finish their graduate studies with a

  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS),
  • Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD), sometimes called a Doctor of Dental Medicine.

Most dentists work in private practice. In private practice, they run a dental office as a business. Often they manage the business functions like bookkeeping or buying equipment and supplies. Dentists hire and supervise dental hygienists and dental assistants, and receptionists. They often contract work to dental laboratory technicians.

A dentist must study much longer and more comprehensively. If you can afford the cost of education and the time it takes, you will be rewarded with a much higher income. On top of time and costs, dental programs are highly competitive.

4. Dental Laboratory Technician

A dental laboratory technician is a skilled craftsman who designs and creates dental prosthetics. Such prosthetics are dentures, bridges, and crowns. Sometimes a dental laboratory technician is also called a dental technician.

Salary range$29,600 – $71,740 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook2% growth 2021 – 2031, less than average
EducationDental laboratory technicians can enter on-the-job training with a high school diploma. Yet, many employers expect an associate’s degree.

Some community colleges provide associate’s degrees with a specialization in dental laboratory work.

With the mostly lower pay and the less attractive outlook becoming a dental lab technician, may seem not too desirable. However, if you prefer to work with materials over working with people it may be a good choice. Also, the barrier to entry is low, requiring only a high school diploma.

5. Dental Clinical Instructor

A dental clinical instructor is a dental professional who teaches aspiring dental professionals. He or she provides instructions to dental hygiene students in the:

  • classroom
  • laboratory
  • clinical settings
Salary range (*)$48,890 – >$208,000 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook (**)12% growth 2021 – 2031, much faster than average
Education4 years, most employers expect a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene
(*) The salary range is only available for health specialty postsecondary teachers. Dental instructors should fall within this range
(**) The job growth estimate is only available for all post-secondary teachers. It is reasonable to assume that dental hygiene instructors grow at the same pace.

Becoming a Clinical Instructor in Dental Hygiene is an option for seasoned professionals. Besides experience in the field of dental hygiene, you need the ability to teach others. You further need to develop a curriculum and correct exams.

The pay range is extensive. Pay largely depends on the program and curriculum one teaches. Prestigious colleges or universities pay higher salaries than community colleges.

6. Dental Public Health Specialist

A dental public health specialist is a healthcare professional developing public health programs. Such dental public health programs improve the oral health of communities and populations. They consist of education, and research, as well as policy development.

Salary range$37,020 – 102,480 (May 2021 Survey)
Job Outlook8-12% growth in 2021 – 2031, much faster than average
Education4 years, most employers expect a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene

The dental public health specialist requires high academic credentials. It is an option for some dental hygienists, after several years in practice. some like a new challenge to develop and administer programs.

The pay range is quite significant. It is also not too well defined, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics only tracks health education specialists in general.

Key Takeaways

There are significant alternatives to becoming a dental hygienist.

  • If you want full responsibility you can aspire to become a dentist. It is a long and competitive road to becoming a dentist. Yet your responsibilities and salary will reward you for the journey.
  • Working as a dental hygiene instructor or as public health specialist is a great way to pivot your career. It is an ideal career step away from clinical practice. You can lay the foundation for this option by earning a bachelor’s degree rather than only an associate’s degree.

About Ansar Ullah

My dream was always to become a medical doctor. However, I could not afford to study medicine so I became a writer.
Here I write about dentistry and careers in the wider field of dentistry. I love to research about educational topics and what it takes to be come a dental hygienist or a dental assistant. I also love to learn more about other specializations in the field of oral science.

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