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Dental hygienists enjoy a great work-life balance

May 19, 2016
Peter Cargill of thinks there's a lot to love about the career of dental hygiene. Whether you're a new grad or a veteran, here are some things to consider, even if you're thinking of leaving the operatory for a nonclinical career. 
Peter Cargill of thinks there's a lot to love about the career of dental hygiene. Whether you're a new grad or a veteran, here are some things to consider, even if you're thinking of leaving the operatory for a nonclinical career.

One of the great aspects of being a dental hygienist is the work-life balance the profession affords. This is among the most important factors in many people’s decision to search out a career in hygiene. This article will review the career of dental hygiene from the perspective of the founder of a dental jobs site and that supports the hiring of dentists, specialists, hygienists, assistants, office staff, lab technicians, group support, executives, as well as dental sales and marketing leaders.

Some jobs take so much time and attention that little is left for enjoying the other pleasures of life, while other forms of employment might give time to explore different activities but don’t present the challenges and fulfillment that working closely with dental patients allows. According to U.S. News and World Report, a career as a dental hygienist ranks #10 among the top 100 occupations. (1) Part of the reason for this rating is the freedom and work-life balance this career choice gives the individual. Six factors are normally considered in judging a job’s work-life balance. Here’s how these work out for a career as a dental hygienist.

Here’s some more good news. A career as a dental hygienist has been ranked as one of the top ten (#5) least stressful jobs. (2) However, it’s important to take breaks and rest the back and wrists between patients in order to reduce the wear and tear on the body. For that reason, when searching for a new dental hygiene job or working with a recruiter, it is important to know and understand what the hours will be and the physical expectations required.

Want a flexible work schedule? You’ve come to the right place. Over half of all dental hygienists that work in a private practice work part-time. (1,2,3) Dental hygiene offers numerous opportunities to fit your work to your own schedule. Some dental hygienists work a couple of days at one office and a day or two at another, allowing for even more scheduling flexibility, giving them time for themselves and their other commitments.

Dental hygienists on the whole make an average of $32.57 per hour. Overall annual earnings go from $46,000 to $87,000. Extra financial packages can encompass around $3,000 from bonuses and $6,000 from profit sharing. Specific employer and years of experience impact pay as well as does the location of the practice. (5)

Job fulfillment
Being a dental hygienist is high on the fulfillment scale. For someone who is people oriented, likes to communicate, and loves helping others, this career is enjoyable and rewarding. The dental hygienist can go home at night knowing their work has been useful and that they’ve contributed to the health and well-being of others. “Being a dental hygienist gives me the ability to live a fun and balanced life! My degree also allows me to create and pursue business opportunities outside of the clinic too!” states Elijah Desmond, RDH, BS, ADHA member, founder and CEO of Smiles at Sea.

Total hours and flexibility
According to a recent survey of dental hygienists around the country, schedules and number of hours worked vary widely. (6) If you want a job where you can set your own schedule, this is the job for you. Part time dental hygienists work somewhere between 20 and 25 hours per week, while full timers work between 35 and 45 hours.

Added factors that create the terrific work-life balance enjoyed by dental hygienists are the low unemployment rate and job expansion possibilities. (6,7) The job of a dental hygienist is well placed on that top 10 list of “Best Healthcare Jobs” and #32 in “Best Job” overall. (4) “I was a dental assistant for six years before I decided to further my career and become a dental hygienist. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made because four days after I graduated, I had my first child and was able to stay home four days a week with her while also helping provide for my family the other three days! I love the flexibility of being a hygienist because now I can work one day a week, temp, and for the past three years have started a company related to dentistry. I would have never been able to do all of these things had I not taken my career to the next level. As an assistant I had to work when the doctor worked. Now I can work when I want to work which I have chosen one day a week clinical, and the rest I can spend on my business and most importantly, be a mom. I love being a hygienist!” says Sarah Thiel, RDH, CEO, and cofounder of CE Zoom.

Career advancement
Dental Hygienists are typically organized, dedicated, and compassionate. These traits lead to greater opportunities within the clinical environment and beyond, especially in a private practice setting.

Within an office or group practice setting, dental hygienists can advance their career by becoming a leader and offering their mentorship to other dental hygienists and staff. Dental hygiene comes with so many new, innovative products, tools, and techniques, that training is critical, especially in some of the clinical practice areas. So often doctors and owners will rely on a dental hygienist to be sure they are in compliance or have the proper tools and training in place for the entire dental hygiene team. In a group DSO setting, the dental hygienist has the added opportunity to expand his or her roles and responsibilities, even as far as becoming an executive on the clinical management team!

Building upon a hygiene career—outside the operatory
Life’s all about work-life balance, right? For those looking for a change, struggling with their 9–5 jobs, or maybe just starting out in their career, a career in dental hygiene is the way to go. The health-care profession is growing and advancing more than ever before. There are numerous settings where a dental hygienist can work, such as education, research public health, corporate, and many more.

Christina Boxler, RDH, BS, and a pharmaceutical representative for Johnson & Johnson, writes, “A few years ago I made the decision to become a dental hygienist, and since then, I have not looked back. I worked in the profession for a couple years, practicing in a private dental practice growing my knowledge and skill set. During that time the opportunity allowed me to set my own hours, balance family and friends, as well as earn a great income while enriching the lives of other’s health and wellness. Moving forward to today, I now work as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Johnson & Johnson. All in all, with my background in dental hygiene along with my clinical set, not only has this allowed me to advance in my career, but allowed me to quickly transition into a sales role among one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world!”

Editorial director’s note: Join us at RDH Under One Roof: Evolve your Dental Hygiene Career.

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Peter Cargill is the founder and president of,, a site promoting DSO and group careers and affiliations, and DR Recruiting. DentReps works nationally with private practices, a majority of the large group DSOs as well as many of the small to mid-size groups as well as dental sales organizations. In 2015, DentReps became the strategic partner and job board of the American Dental Assistants Association ( For more information, visit the website or email [email protected] or call (781) 987-1365.