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What are the Different Dental Hygienist Careers?

Erika Peterson
Erika Peterson

There are a variety of different dental hygienist careers that are available to properly trained medical professionals. Dental hygienists can work in an office, hospital, school, or a clinic. The locations and types of dental hygienist careers that are available to a particular individual depend on the person’s education and experience, but they all have one thing in common. They all promote and helps to maintain the correct oral health in people of all ages.

New graduates with a two-year degree are most likely to start off their professional career in the office of a dentist or another tooth care professional. Dental hygienist careers that begin in the office of a dental professional combine correct tooth care and assistance with a high level of customer service. Office dental assistants work one-on-one with dentists and customers, and these individuals promote proper oral hygiene on a regular basis. They are responsible for cleanings, patient consultations and assisting the doctor with more difficult procedures.

A dental hygienist cleans a patient's teeth.
A dental hygienist cleans a patient's teeth.

Individuals with on the job experience in a dental office, an advanced education or both may find additional opportunities in the field of dental hygienist careers. Professionals with bachelor’s or master’s degrees can find jobs in teaching, research or public health programs. These careers usually offer more than a career in a dentist office.

Health professionals with an advanced degree not only work with doctors and the public, but they work with other health professionals on important research and health projects. Dental hygienist careers in the research field usually do not work in a office or classroom environment. These professionals work in a lab or another scientific setting on important projects and programs.

A dental hygienist cleaning a person's teeth.
A dental hygienist cleaning a person's teeth.

The types of dental hygienist careers that require the most education and hands on experience are in the education field. The best, most experienced and most highly educated dental hygiene professionals can become instructors. Instructors work in many different types of school environments. Some work at community colleges or technical schools, while others work at four-year universities.

Practicing dental hygienists follow the same structured procedure for each patient.
Practicing dental hygienists follow the same structured procedure for each patient.

Whether a person desires to work in a dental office, a hospital, a research facility or a school it is important to get the proper education. For the most flexibility many students choose to acquire a master’s degree. It is the only dental hygienist education that is sure to offer a wide variety of work related choices throughout a person’s career; however, many dental hygienists go back to school in order to move into a different dental hygienist career.

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Discussion Comments


There seems to be a movement for dental hygienists with certification to be able to work more independently, especially in outreach-type programs. Most of us are used to seeing them only at the dentist's office, but I guess the idea is to use them sort of like a dental equivalent of a nurse practitioner. They would screen patients to see who needs to see a dentist. But this is just based on an article I read and don't remember the details of!

I think a lot of people are scared away from nursing and dental hygiene because of the amount of science you have to study. But you don't have to be a science genius or anything! If you graduated from high school without too much difficulty, you can almost certainly handle it and be making real money while your friends are still spending five years finishing their four-year liberal arts degrees!


I don't think a lot of people realize how many possibilities there are in this field in addition to working in a dentist office. If I were to enroll in a dental hygienist program, I think I would continue on with my masters degree.

This is something my daughter is currently working on and she is excited about the possibilities. When she first enrolled in the program, she was just interested in getting her two-year degree.

Now she is planning on continuing with her education, and would love to end up being an instructor some day.


@LisaLou-- My niece is a licensed dental hygienist and has her associates degree. She has worked at this for about 5 years and makes around $55,000 a year.

I don't think this is a bad wage for someone with a 2 year degree. She also loves what she does and enjoys the patient contact. It sounds like there are many more possibilities in this field if you continue on with your education, but even with just two years, you can still get a good job in this industry.

Another nice thing about getting a dental hygienist degree is that you can do this just about anywhere you go. Even when the economy is bad, most people still go to have their teeth cleaned.


What is an average dental hygienist salary for someone who has a two-year degree?

This is one career my daughter has been considering. She knows she doesn't want to go to school for four years, but also wants to make a good wage. I think a two-year program would be perfect for her, and also think she would do well at it.

There are several choices of two-year programs, and as far as being a dental hygienist, I think you would always be able to find a job somewhere.


Working at a dental hygienist job is something that has never appealed to me. I don't think I would do very good working on teeth all day long.

I think the hygienists that work in the dentist office where I go have completed their two-year degree. I think this must be a pretty decent paying job because they seem to like what they do, and have done this for quite awhile.

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    • A dental hygienist cleans a patient's teeth.
      By: Sandor Kacso
      A dental hygienist cleans a patient's teeth.
    • A dental hygienist cleaning a person's teeth.
      By: Sergey
      A dental hygienist cleaning a person's teeth.
    • Practicing dental hygienists follow the same structured procedure for each patient.
      By: xalanx
      Practicing dental hygienists follow the same structured procedure for each patient.