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Does a Job in Dental Hygiene REALLY Pay $70,000 a Year?

Posted March 14, 2014

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

The DentalPost Facebook community is full of smart, talented dental professionals who live and work all over the country (and even the world!), and we love the unique perspectives they bring to the table every single week on our page. Recently, we shared an article that generated a LOT of buzz – some good, some bad – about the expectations many people have when they enter the Dental Hygiene field, especially in regards to salary.

According to the original article published on, the annual Occupational DH StudentOutlook Handbook released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that, on average, Registered Dental Hygienists earned $70,210 per year (or $33.75 per hour) in 2012. Using data from dental offices around the country, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also noted that job opportunities in dental hygiene are expected to increase by 33% over the next 10 years, which is three times the anticipated growth for all jobs in the U.S. during the same period.

Of course, these statistics are an estimated average – and for many of our Facebook friends whose salaries are much lower than the numbers listed in the Handbook, they came as a surprise. As with any job, a dental hygienist’s salary will vary widely based on a number of factors; geographic location, experience level, marketed self-worth and skill set all play important roles in determining a salary, so it’s incredibly difficult to set a national standard.

In my experience, it is certainly not uncommon for a skilled dental hygienist who works full-time in a major metropolitan area to make around $42-49 an hour. When a hygienist works a few days a week at different practices or is new to the dental field, that number will likely be far less. If you are working full time as an RDH (at least 40 hours per week, every week) and feel like you should be making more money, consider taking these steps.

1. Think about your value: Are you adding value to your practice? Make sure you work with every patient to provide the best care possible. There is always room for improvement, so think about what else you could be doing to go above and beyond for your patients. Next, think about the value you are adding to the practice overall. Are you someone who can always be depended on to be on time, stick to the schedule and work to make the practice run smoothly? If so, make a list of all the ways you go above and beyond your job duty. If not, look for ways to start doing more.

2. Ask for a raise. If you consider yourself an experienced RDH and see tangible ways that you both care for your patients AND add overall value to the practice, then it’s time to ask for a raise. In my experience, women are far less likely than men to ask for a raise. If you think you deserve to be paid more, then schedule a time to sit down with your boss and explain how you’re adding value and ask for a higher salary. Look up comps for your area and skill level and see how your current salary compares. Be prepared to share these findings with your boss.

3. Treat each day at work as an opportunity to succeed and improve. You should constantly strive to be the best hygienist possible, whether that means showing up to the office 15 minutes earlier or being a better team member. Look for ways you can improve and ask your boss and coworkers for constructive criticism – it’s not fun, but sometimes it’s the best way to learn!

Finally, while it’s difficult to set a national standard for a salary in any field, we’d love to get your feedback and perspective on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ findings. Do you feel that the Occupational Outlook Handbook is right on point, or way off the mark? What steps have you taken in your own career to make sure that you’re earning the salary you deserve? Please click here to complete an anonymous form about your work history and salary information – we’d love to hear your thoughts, and would be happy to share our findings with you and the rest of our community.

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