California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Dental Hygienists in California

May also be called: Registered Dental Hygienists (RDH) and Hygienists.

What Would I Do?

Dental Hygienists are part of the dental care team that includes dentists, dental assistants, and dental technicians working together to prevent and control gum disease and the development of tooth decay.

Dental Hygienists remove plaque and clean and polish teeth using scaling instruments and a rotating polisher. They apply decay preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants, chart medical and dental histories, and take and develop dental x-ray films. They also screen patients, take a medical history, and add information to the patient’s chart.

Hygienists teach patients good oral hygiene practices and examine the mouth for disease. They may also provide nutritional counseling and instruct patients on how to take care of their teeth so they can last a lifetime.

Hygienists do not diagnose dental problems, but over time they have acquired more responsibility. They can administer anesthesia for pain control and prepare clinical and laboratory diagnostic tests for interpretation by dentists. They are increasingly involved in periodontal therapies including root planing, micro-ultrasonics, and soft tissue curettage.

Dental Hygienists who are employed in public health agencies such as Indian Health Services or in community health programs help dentists assess dental care needs and plan appropriate dental health programs. This includes supervising field training for dental hygiene students. They also provide clinical services, especially for children.

Dental Hygienists who work in hospitals, clinics, and nursing and convalescent homes assist dentists with oral health problems of the patients. At colleges and universities, they engage in research in the field, teach dental hygiene programs, and may be employed as faculty members in dental schools.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Clean calcareous deposits, accretions, and stains from teeth and beneath margins of gums, using dental instruments.Medicine and Dentistry
Feel and visually examine gums for sores and signs of disease.Problem Sensitivity
Chart conditions of decay and disease for diagnosis and treatment by dentist.Judgment and Decision Making
Feel lymph nodes under patient's chin to detect swelling or tenderness that could indicate presence of oral cancer.Biology
Apply fluorides and other cavity preventing agents to arrest dental decay.Customer and Personal Service
Examine gums, using probes, to locate periodontal recessed gums and signs of gum disease.Arm-Hand Steadiness
Expose and develop x-ray film.Control Precision
Provide clinical services and health education to improve and maintain oral health of school children.Education and Training
Remove excess cement from coronal surfaces of teeth.Finger Dexterity
Make impressions for study casts.Manual Dexterity
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Dental Hygienists work in pleasant, modern, well-lit, heated, and ventilated surroundings that usually have the latest dental equipment. Some of the locations in which they work include dentists’ offices, armed forces bases, nursing homes, and public health clinics.

While most of the time Dental Hygienists work sitting down, they can still develop back and neck pain. Repetitive hand and wrist movements used in their work may cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Other hazards include exposure to infectious diseases and possible overexposure to radiation from x-rays. Risks are minimized by using the appropriate safety gear such as masks, safety glasses, and special aprons. Important health protection in this occupation includes regular checkups and strict adherence to safety procedures for the use of x-ray equipment.

The work requires good vision (may be corrected) and finger dexterity for close attention to detail and handling of sharp instruments. Constant work with other dental team members in a confined space is common.

It is common for Hygienists to work part-time in one dental office, and combine that with another part-time schedule in another office. A variety of schedules may be available, including full-time, part-time, evening, and weekend work.

Licensed Dental Hygienists are eligible to join the American Dental Hygienists Association and the California Dental Hygienists Association.

Will This Job Fit Me?

This occupation will likely interest you if you like helping people, enjoy detail work, like working with your hands, are adaptable, and are sensitive to the needs of others. This career involves making many decisions regarding patient care as well as decisions regarding billing, contracts with dentists, scheduling and more. The job can be routine, following a set pattern of examination and cleaning.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Dental Hygienists earn an excellent income, with median, full-time wages reaching almost $80,000 per year.

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Dental Hygienists in California is $98,010 annually, or $47.12 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$84,974$98,010$112,649
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits usually include medical insurance, paid vacation, and sick leave - especially for full-time employees. Many employers provide retirement plans and discounts on dental work. Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. Most full-time and part-time Dental Hygienists receive dental coverage.

What is the Job Outlook?

Hygienists are in great demand in general dental offices, as well as in specialty practices such as periodontics or pediatric dentistry. Employment of Dental Hygienists is expected to grow as a result of an overall increase in demand for dental services, population growth, and in the trend for Hygienists to perform services formerly done by dentists. In addition, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more Hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Dental Hygienists is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Dental Hygienists are expected to increase by 15.1 percent, or 3,100 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Dental Hygienists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2014-2024)
20,50023,6003,10015.13,400
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 310 new job openings per year is expected for Dental Hygienists, plus an additional 340 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 650 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Dental Hygienists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2014-2024)
310340650
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Dental Hygienists receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, technical colleges, dental schools, or universities. The majority of community college programs take at least two years to complete, with graduates receiving associate degrees. This degree allows a Hygienist to take licensure examinations (this includes both a national written examination and a State clinical examination) and to work in a dental office. University-based dental hygiene programs may offer baccalaureate and master's degrees, which generally require at least two years of further schooling. These additional degrees may be required to embark on a career in teaching or research, as well as for clinical practice in school or public health programs.

Dental hygiene program admission requirements vary depending upon the specific school. Most programs show a preference for individuals who have completed at least one year of college. Some baccalaureate degree programs require that applicants complete two years of college prior to enrollment in the dental hygiene program. Counselors, advisors, and prospective students should contact the particular dental hygiene program of interest for specific program requirements.

Dental hygiene education programs provide students with clinical education in the form of supervised patient care experiences. Additionally, these programs include courses in liberal arts (e.g., English, speech, sociology, and psychology); basic sciences (e.g., anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, immunology, chemistry, microbiology, and pathology); and clinical sciences (e.g., dental hygiene, radiology, and dental materials).

Experience

Experience is preferred, but not required, by employers. Extensive experience is often rewarded with better pay.

Early Career Planning

High school courses such as health, biology, English, psychology, chemistry, mathematics, and speech will be beneficial in a dental hygiene career.

Continuing Education

Hygienists must complete 25 continuing education units every two years to meet state requirements.

Licensing and Certification

To be licensed by the California Department of Consumer Affairs Committee on Dental Auxiliaries, the educational program must be approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Prospective Registered Dental Hygienists must satisfy four requirements to be licensed in California:

  • Graduate from an ADA-accredited hygiene program;
  • Complete approved courses in the use of instruments to clean soft tissue (such as gums), administration of nitrous oxide, and administration of local anesthesia;
  • Pass the national written examination; and
  • Pass a clinical examination and examinations in Ethics and California Law administered by the Committee on Dental Auxiliaries (COMDA).
In addition, applicants must be fingerprinted. If a check reveals a criminal history, arrest and court records must be investigated, and a license may be denied on this basis. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Dental, Dental Hygiene, and Dental Hygienist.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Most Dental Hygienists work in dentists offices, clinics, and community health programs. The largest industries employing Dental Hygienists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Offices of Dentists 96.7%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to private dental offices is an excellent way of locating openings. Sometimes one dental office will know of opportunities in another office. Private colleges and vocational schools may offer placement assistance, as do many community colleges. Many employers recruit job applicants through newspaper advertisements.

 Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Dental Hygienists.

  • Dental Clinics
  • Dentists
  • Government (State, County, City)
  • Hospitals

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Depending upon the level of education and experience achieved, Dental Hygienists can also apply their skills and knowledge to other career activities such as teaching hygiene students in dental schools and dental hygiene education programs. Research, office management, and business administration are other career options. Additionally, employment opportunities may be available with companies that market dental-related materials and equipment.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Dental Hygienists with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Dental AssistantsGuide
Medical AssistantsGuide
Occupational Therapy AidesProfile
Occupational Therapy AssistantsProfile
Physical Therapist AidesGuide
Physical Therapist AssistantsGuide
Physician AssistantsGuide
Radiologic Technologists and Technicians*Guide
Registered Nurses*Profile
Respiratory TherapistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-2021
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Dental Hygienists29-2021.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SRC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Dental Hygiene/Hygienist 510602
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Dental Hygienist124020