dental hygienist work life balance

At DentalPost, we know a lot about work-life balance. Heck, our company was founded because I wanted a better way for dental professionals – and at the time, specifically hygienists – to be able to find more flexible jobs.

Work-life balance is important; we all have our lives outside of work, and our careers are only part of who we are. Still, many of us spend most of our time in the confines of our office, and the truth is that our work lives can affect our personal ones. That, in part, is why it is so important to have a job with a great work-life balance.

The good news for dental hygienists or those individuals aspiring to become them is that this profession is constantly rated highly in that arena. According to an infographic on work-life balance by Fitness Mentors, six areas are often considered when determining what indicators contribute to jobs with great work-life balance. Let’s take a look at these indicators and see how they stack up to the dental hygienist.

Indicators of Work-Life Balance for Dental Hygienists

According to data from Fitness Mentors, six of the main indicators of work-life balance include:

  1. Total hours worked per week
  2. Fun rating
  3. Average pay
  4. Growth potential
  5. Flexibility
  6. Stress

Luckily, we have some solid data on a few of the above indicators and have searched the web for credible sources for others.

Total Hours Worked per Week

According to data we have from over 6,000 survey respondents, dental hygienists’ work hours vary depending on their experience. Full-time hygienists with three or fewer years of experience tend to work between 35 and 45 hours per week. Full-time employees with more than three years of experience work 30 to 35 hours per week. Part-time employees with three or fewer years of experience work 20 to 25 hours per week, while those with three-plus years of experience work about 25 hours per week.

DentalPost’s survey data collected from 6,000+ dental hygienists in the third quarter of 2021 indicates that satisfaction with their weekly hours is relatively high. Less than a third (31%) said they would like to work more or fewer hours.

Fun Rating

For many, fun on the job provides a nice balance when going to work every day. We don’t have any hard and fast data on hygienist fun ratings, but we can assume that employees who have more fun at work – with patients and coworkers – enjoy a bit more balance while on the clock, which doesn’t result in stress.

Our February 2022 job satisfaction survey asked dental hygienists what they enjoy most about their jobs. A total of 72% said it was their positive interactions with their patients.

Average Pay

DentalPost’s salary survey conducted in the third quarter of 2021 found that the average salary of dental hygienists depends greatly on their experience. Those earning the highest average income have worked 10 to 19 years. Reported total income for those who have worked for more years starts to slightly fall off in direct correlation with the average number of hours they work per week. 

And, yes, later in their careers, dental hygienists tend to work fewer hours. With so many opportunities available for employment, many hygienists can now “call the shots” to maintain an equilibrium among work demands, financial demands, and their personal life. 

Here are some national Q3 2021 salary numbers based on total income reported by hygienists who work more than 30 hours per week on average. 

Average Income
Mobile clinic$59,333 
Public schools$67,150 
Prison$66,917 
University$64,133 
Hospital$71,690 
Military$79,572 
Community clinic$79,224 
Public health$71,748 
Specialist private practice$67,868 
Corporate practice$73,758 
General private practice$68,939 

Although a pay increase is still among the topmost cited reasons why dental hygienists apply for new jobs, our latest salary survey indicates that only 14% of hygienists nationwide intended to find a new job in 2022 and that only 28% were dissatisfied with their current income. Compared with our data from the prior year, there was an overall 10% increase in income satisfaction. Just over 40% reported receiving a pay increase in the previous 12 months.

Growth Potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of dental hygienists is projected to grow 33 percent from 2012 (the last time the study was published) to 2022. This is a much higher average than most occupations, showing promising signs for those interested or currently in this profession.

The shortage of hygienists to fill all open positions is enormous in 2022. There will be no end to job opportunities in the foreseeable future, perhaps for decades to come. In addition to being able to choose where they work, the challenges facing dental practices to keep up with consumer demand are accelerating with an impact on how we practice. 

Rewards, Recognition, and Support

In 2022, employers appreciate, recognize, and reward dental hygienists like never before. Employers and managers are more amenable to creative changes and growth opportunities. They listen to what dental hygienists want most to attract candidates for their open Hygiene positions and retain their hygienists. 

DentalPost’s February 2022 Satisfaction Survey found that 30% of dental hygienists highly prize the ability to use their knowledge and skills, and 58% highly prize recognition. So, it is exciting to see a trend emerging among dental practices (and with great gusto among emerging and established DSOs) to significantly foster collaboration between dentists and hygienists to increase comprehensive care and health. 

One example of this is recognizing hygienists as clinical providers instead of technicians doing just prophies and SRPs. DSOs have training programs to enable hygienists to use AI computer vision platforms to detect and call the doctor’s attention to hidden oral health issues and training programs to introduce perio tray medicative therapy to their patients who have been diagnosed with chronic periodontal inflammation.

Collaborative partnerships have excelled in many private practices over the years, and hearing about DSOs striving to achieve this is uplifting for growth-minded dental hygienists such as myself. More and more, I hear about DSO leadership teams encouraging dentists and hygienists to study patient cases together to calibrate and improve their trust in each other’s ability to provide aligned patient support.

Flexibility

Our latest survey indicates that 40% of hygienists in private dental practices work part-time, and 31% of hygienists in corporate dental practices work part-time. One could relate the high percentage of part-time workers to parents who value the flexibility dental hygienists are afforded with numerous part-time employment opportunities. In fact, our latest salary survey showed that 20% of hygienists work in more than one office, showing further proof of the flexibility of this career for those who want to work around personal commitments.

Since the pandemic’s start, many dental hygienists have begun temping. The greatest benefits of temping are flexibility, workplace diversity, and the wide variety of experiences you can gain. DentalPost articles about temping include:

Stress

Coming out of the pandemic, DentalPost’s February 2022 Dental Professional Satisfaction Survey found that:

  • 60.5% of responding hygienists felt chronically pressed for time.
  • 77.75% of hygienists were experiencing some level of physical, mental, and emotional fatigue.
  • 34.5% had felt this way for less than one year.
  • 35% had felt this way for the past 1 to 2 years.
  • 30.5% had felt this way for more than 2 years.

Despite these stress-related stats, 

  • 50.5% had recommended their career to others.
  • 70.75% were satisfied with their career overall.

DentalPost declared 2022 the year for self-care because we must first care for ourselves before caring for others. It’s up to us as individuals to create our recovery-from-burnout plans. Some ways to take control of our burnout recovery are discussed in my blog Battling Burnout-Time to Reset.  Long before the pandemic, a perennial stressor for hygienists is musculoskeletal pain. One study by the Department of Social Dentistry & Behavioural Sciences titled Work Stress and Burnout among dental hygienists showed hygienists dealt with a lot of musculoskeletal pain, long working hours, and lack of support practice.

Having worked as a hygienist for years, I can attest that dental hygienists can experience either very little stress on the job or bodily discomfort. I’ve had neck and wrist issues from overworking my body and incorrectly holding my positions. Once I started to “listen to my body” and be more attentive to my positions, I was able to alleviate these issues.

Your body is the most important tool you have. Keep it in tip-top shape and seek a work environment that will not wreck it. Check out this article on RDHMag.com on how to prevent injuries and minimize occupational injuries to learn more about this topic.

Conclusions about Work-Life Balance and Dental Hygienists

If you are looking for motivation to become a dental hygienist, our 2022 job satisfaction survey found these measures of why responding hygienists chose their careers. They said:

It pays well, and I could afford the education33.5%
I knew I would enjoy the work38%
I wanted a health profession54.75%
I desired to help others64.5%

I may be a bit biased as I love my job as a hygienist. Still, it seems that the above six indicators of work-life balance look favorable in terms of a long, satisfying career with the ability to have favorable working hours, great pay, above-average industry growth, and lots of flexibility. Perhaps this is why the below Fitness Mentors infographic places dental hygienists amongst its top jobs for work-life balance (in general), rates it as the best job for part-timers, and puts it as a top job for working moms.

Updated August 2022.

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