Future of dental hygiene part 1

March 8, 2011
Part-time dental hygienists are more likely to comfortable about the salary they earn, but more likely to feel that their fringe benefits are inadequate.

Part-time dental hygienists are more likely to feel comfortable about the salary they earn, but more likely to feel that their fringe benefits are inadequate, according to a “future of dental hygiene” survey initiated by RDH eVillage in February 2011.

The comments below about the survey are based on responses from 1,489 dental hygienists. Upcoming articles will compare statistics with hygienists based on years in the profession, as well as a state-by-state breakdown of results. If RDH eVillage readers did not participate in the survey during its original publication, they still may do so here.

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents indicated that they practice full-time (at least 30 hours a week), and 43% practice part-time.

In regard to a question about whether hygienists feel they “are worth more or less" than income earned, 60% of full-time hygienists felt they should be earning more income, compared to 50% of part-time hygienists.

Yet, 69% of part-time hygienists said their fringe benefits such as vacation time, sick days, health insurance, etc., was below average in comparison to the benefits received by friends, family members, and even patients. In contrast, 53% of full-time hygienists feel their fringe benefits are below average in comparison to their non-dental acquaintances.

Fringe benefits awarded to part-time dental hygienists are frequently a point of contention in “salary” surveys published by RDH magazine and RDH eVillage. Tim Twigg, the president of Bent Ericksen & Associates and author of the “Staff Issues” column in Dental Economics magazine, said, “Due to the economic downturn, many employers have looked for ways to reduce costs. On the employment side, this could be by reducing staff, reducing hours and/or reducing benefits.”

Twigg explained that benefits such as vacation, medical insurance, holidays, sick leave, retirement, etc., are all discretionary — with certain exceptions.

He said, “The federal government's health-care reform bill will affect employer's discretion about medical insurance. And some states, cities, or counties have enacted requirements for certain employers to provide medical insurance and/or sick leave. Collective bargaining agreements and union type contracts can also affect employer requirements.”

Otherwise, dentist employers, if choosing to offer benefits, merely have to follow a non-discriminatory policy regarding benefits awarded to employees, and part-time vs. full-time status is not considered discriminatory.

“Examples of legitimate and non-discriminatory classifications might be: full time vs. part time, clinical staff vs. administrative staff, per diem employees vs. hourly employees, 3-plus years of employment vs. less than 3 years of employment, etc.,” Twigg explained.

In addition, the RDH eVillage survey pointed out that part-timers also have a slight edge, 30% to 21%, in declaring they are already experiencing some degree of burnout over their career choice.

However, 61% of both full-timers and part-timers said they would still become a dental hygienist if they could do it all over again, and 45% of both groups are not pursuing additional education for other career choices.

Comments about the future of the profession from part-time hygienists include:

  • No full-time positions. They are cheap if you are independent — not a good choice for career.
  • Should be very interesting with all the certificate programs coming along to keep up the hourly wage. I feel it is going the wrong direction. I can't get a job at this point making the same salary or more. Only offers are for $6 to $7 dollars less an hour.
  • It is obvious [to me] dentistry is preparing to make a huge shift in care. Those currently in the profession are not going to like it. Big picture: Prepare for more work, less compensation.
  • Dental hygienists are always going to be needed. Every year new dentists are graduating and opening new offices. It does not take long before the new dentist figures out he or she does not want to do SRPs or recare all day long. I do feel our benefits may be at stake. More dentists are hiring part-time hygienists so that they do not have to offer benefit packages. I have never really believed in unions but now I know why they are in place in some states and career fields.
  • I see a job saturation with minimal full-time positions available. This will lead to zero benefits and lower pay even though the cost of keeping our license and skills up to date will increase.
  • If I did not have financial obligations, I would quit this field forever! I have in the last five years obtained my Ohio insurance license and a tax preparer certification. I have done all the right things over the years, taught at the best of colleges in Ohio (dental hygiene and EFDA), been very active in my community promoting high degrees of dental health, volunteered hundreds of hours, and been exceptional in all the practices I have been in. BUT, when the right opportunity occurs, I will kiss my dental hygiene and EFDA career away. Do I sound bitter ... Yes, I am.
  • Over saturated and dumbed down. Eventually people will stop applying because the money won't be as good and then the market will get better. I will be gone by then!
  • I am afraid for the future of dental hygiene. The job market is saturated, driving wages down, no benefits for private practice hygienists. I work in public health but have heard horror stories about the real world. I am so thankful to be right where I am.
  • I think we do need to be thankful for our career choice. I do not know of another career that requires only two years of education and pays as good as hygiene. It's the best career for someone like me who likes health care and wants to be able to be home as many days as possible with my kids and still contribute to the family finances. In reading RDH it sounds like the market is saturated which is unfortunate. Maybe I hit the "hay-day" of hygiene. Maybe if hygiene schools made the admissions standards harder, and went to a 4 year program across the board, it would take care of the over saturation problem while at the same time raising the standards to make sure the people that are applying really want this career. Individually, appreciate what we do have and for new students to be aware of the job market; do not go in blindly.