13 Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Hygienist

Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

When you think about the idea of being a dental hygienist, it might be easy to imagine what kind of things a day would entail. You may picture yourself in a white coat assisting the dentist with procedures and providing cleaning and care for patients. However, not everything is as glamorous as you might have thought! Yes, there are many pros to being a dental hygienist, but some cons come along with the territory. Do you know what are the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist? It is essential to know all sides before making any decisions about your career path. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a dental hygienist to help you decide if this is a career path worth pursuing.

What is a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist is one of the most important members of a dental team. They work closely with dentists, dental assistants, and technicians to provide excellent patient care. Dental hygienists play a vital role in the success of dental practices. Their work is essential to removing plaque and tartar from teeth, as well as taking x-rays, impressions for study models, fitting patients for dentures and braces, taking oral cancer screenings, removing sutures, and much more. You will find dental hygienists working in private practices, clinics, or hospitals. They also work with dental surgeons who are responsible for examining the teeth, gums, and mouth of their patients to decide if they need any kind of treatment.


(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Dental Hygienist.)

1. You will need formal training to be a dental hygienist.

The first step you must take if you want to become a dental hygienist is to complete an accredited dental hygiene program in your state. Every state requires dental hygienists to possess a license, and some states require an associate degree before you receive it. Most dental hygienists choose to complete an Associate degree program which can be completed in two years. The second option is to complete a Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene program which will take you four years to complete. The third option is to complete a Master of Science in Dental Hygiene which will require you to complete an additional one to two years on top of the Bachelor’s of Science in Dental Hygiene. Two to six years is a long time to be devoted to school, especially when you need to get out there and make money.

2. You will need to pay for your dental hygienist schooling.

When you are evaluating the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist, looking at what it is going to cost you to achieve this goal should be one of the first steps. The cost of becoming a dental hygienist varies from program to program. The cost of your schooling will depend on several different factors, such as what type of degree you choose to pursue, where you get your education, financial assistance, and what area of the country you plan to work. According to a Dental Hygienists' Association survey, the average cost of becoming a dental hygienist with an associate's degree is $22,692, a bachelor's degree is $36,382 and a master's degree is $30,421. Wow those tuition fees really start to stack up.

3. You will need a license to work.

Dental hygienists must be licensed in most states to work legally. You will need to pass a written exam before beginning work. However, the requirements and costs of entering this profession will vary depending on your location. To be eligible to take the test, you must meet specific requirements set by your state. Some of these requirements include practicing your skills for a certain number of hours, taking specific coursework in dental hygiene, and passing an exam.

4. You will find there is very little reciprocity of your license between states.

As a dental hygienist, just because you are licensed in one state, it does not mean you can take a job as a dental hygienist and work in another state. Each state has its own rules and regulations for licensed dental hygienists who want to practice within their states' borders. The fact that there is very little reciprocity between states and that each state has individual regulations makes it very difficult for dental hygienists to cross state lines to work. One of the biggest disadvantages of being a dental hygienist is that the lack of reciprocity will make it difficult for some dental hygienists to find employment or to relocate.

5. You may have an undesirable schedule at times.

As a dental hygienist, you may find at times that you will be required to work shifts you would rather not be at. While it can sometimes be necessary to take a shift at any time, being required to come in on weekends or after hours may prove difficult for some people. In order to maintain an excellent work-life balance, you might have to sacrifice some things. One thing that may be difficult to give up is time with your family. If you have a partner or children or just spend time with friends and family, it can be hard to give up the opportunity to do those things because of a shift you have been scheduled for.

6. You will lack variety in your every day.

One of the biggest cons to being a dental hygienist is the lack of variety in your workday. A dental hygienist typically works in a dental office and sees the same type of patients every day and performs the same tasks every day. Over time this can lead to boredom and losing focus on what needs to be done. This may cause you to want to quit because you no longer have the motivation to do your job. Now let’s think about all the time and money you spent to get here, and then you may want to quit?

7. You may not be able to work full time.

When evaluating the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist, you will need to determine if you truly need to work full-time hours. Many dental hygienists do not work full-time. This is due to no full-time positions being available. Many dentists do not hire dental hygienists to work full-time. This is because of how cost-effective it is to the dental practice using a part-time dental hygienist.

8. You may not receive benefits.

As a dental hygienist, you may not be eligible to receive benefits because you are unable to work full-time. In that case, you will not be entitled to benefits such as health insurance, retirement, and paid vacation time. Having benefits is vital because if you are in need of medical attention or need time off, you will be able to receive these things. Employers are not required to offer benefits with part-time positions. Still, they are required to provide benefits for full-time positions.

9. You may have a heavy workload.

One of the cons of being a dental hygienist is that you may have a heavy workload that you will have to accomplish on a daily basis. This heavy workload may lead to minimal breaks and working several days in a row with minimal sleep and even less time to yourself. If you cannot complete this workload, the dentist you are working for will indeed find somebody who can. Then you are at square one with a job search.

10. You may not get a break.

As a dental hygienist getting a break from your busy day seems like a luxury. Often you will work long hours trying to meet the schedule of a demanding dentist. There may be no time for you to eat or use the bathroom. You might remember hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that doesn't always apply here.

11. Your physical well-being may be at risk

As a dental hygienist, your physical well-being may be at risk due to your job. Dental hygiene is a very physically demanding job, leading to bodily injury and even chronic conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Many dental hygienists put their health on the line every day by continuing to work through the pain and ignoring warning signs for these occupational hazards. Dental hygienists have been known to experience bodily injury to their neck, shoulders, back, or wrists. These injuries are all associated with postures and repetitive tasks performed throughout the workday daily. The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation conducted a study that showed high prevalence rates of occupational musculoskeletal disorders among dental hygienists. The study found that 4 out of 5 dental hygienists reported chronic musculoskeletal symptoms.

12. You will be exposed to bodily fluids

One of the most significant disadvantages of being a dental hygienist is that you will be exposed to bodily fluids. You will be exposed to blood, saliva, and other various fluids when working with different patients. This can put you at risk of infection. At your place of employment, you will likely have personal protective gear such as gloves and face masks in order to reduce the risk of becoming infected by a patient's bodily fluids. That is great and dandy but even that protective equipment can fail at times. Then what happens to you?

13. You will have to work with challenging patients at times

If you decide that becoming a dental hygienist is something you want to pursue, you must keep something in mind. You will have to work with complex patients at some point in your career. A difficult patient can be someone who is uncooperative or shows hostility during treatment. You may have to deal with nervous, anxious, fearful, or just plain grumpy patients! Many times, these patients do not like coming to the dentist. If you choose this career, it is essential to know how to handle various patient types and personalities. If you can't, you should consider another profession.


(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Dental Hygienist.)

1. Your schooling will be minimum

Yes, you will need to attend school in order to become a dental hygienist. One of the advantages of being a dental hygienist is that in comparison to other healthcare professions, the education to become a dental hygienist is minimal. In the USA, a dental hygienist's schooling typically takes about 2-3 years to complete, which is a faster education path than becoming a dentist or nurse. This means you can get out there and start earning money sooner.

2. You will have a competitive salary.

As a dental hygienist, you can expect to earn a reasonably competitive salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can expect to make an average of $77,090 per year if you work full-time and $38,790 per year on average if you choose to work part-time. Several factors will also affect your salary such as the area in which you live, and the degree earned are just a few examples. You could live a pretty good life on a salary like that.

3. You will have a positive job outlook.

As a dental hygienist, you have chosen a career with a positive job outlook. With a baby boomer population aging, we are beginning to see more and more baby boomers are moving towards needing full-time dental treatment. This means an increase in the demand for dental hygienists. As a result, it is expected that job growth will be 11% through 2030. In addition, as a dental hygienist, you will be in high demand because of the Affordable Care Act. The number of people with access to healthcare is increasing, particularly in the area of preventative care. Being in high demand ensures that you will always have a job and this definitely is one of the top pros of being a dental hygienist.

4. You do not have to work holidays.

As a dental hygienist, you do not have to work holidays. This may be surprising as most healthcare professions require their members to work on holidays. You will never have to miss a holiday with family and friends. You can continue to make memories with your loved ones.

5. You will not have to work nights.

As a dental hygienist, you will not have to work nights. Night shift work is the epitome of the "bad" shift to work, as it involves working at night. Night shift work entails everything that comes with late hours and less sunlight, which can be detrimental to your health. I guess you got lucky when you decided to explore a career as a dental hygienist.

6. There will always be a need for your type of work.

One of the biggest advantages of being a dental hygienist is that you can have a job anywhere. It is also one of the reasons why this occupation has become so popular. Initially, dental hygienists worked in dental clinics and offices only. However, dental hygienists can be found working in hospitals, nursing homes, group homes for special needs children or adults, schools, or even private homes. There is always a need for your services since people will always have teeth that need to be cared for.

7. You will have a comfortable work environment.

Another perk to working as a dental hygienist is that you'll be able to work in a comfortable environment. A lot of dental offices are air-conditioned or at least have fans to help circulate the air. This is especially good if you're someone who really struggles in the heat. Your work environment will also be clean, which is very important for people who don't like germs, clutter, and dirt.

8. You will have a certain amount of flexibility in your schedule

One of the pros of being a dental hygienist is that this career will allow you to work flexible hours so you can plan on time for family and friends. If you work part-time, you will enjoy even more flexibility. You will be able to book your appointments and schedule your day how it works best for you. You will not have to deal with late cancellations as you can schedule according to your own availability.

9. You can work in various settings.

One of the advantages of being a dental hygienist is that you can work in various settings. You could work in different types of dental offices, like in a general dentist's office, or in a specialty office such as an orthodontist's or periodontics' office. Dental hygienists are also employed by the government to provide routine and preventative care for patients with disabilities. You could also find employment in schools, and even in nursing homes. The positive aspect of these various settings is that if you do not like one, you can try another till you find the perfect fit.

10. You will have the option for career advancement

As a dental hygienist, you will have the ability to go back to school and earn a bachelor's degree. You also have the ability to go back to school and earn a master's degree. Either of these two degrees can open up many other doors for you. While analyzing the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist one of the points you will need to think about is that going back to school will cost you money but earning a higher degree can potentially earn you a bigger salary.

11. You can have other career options through your education.

When you earn either a bachelor's or master's degree as a dental hygienist, you will have the ability to increase your job prospects. You could now take on the role of a managerial position if you work in an institution, or you could teach the next generation of dental hygienists. You could also act as a consultant, or you can be an educational representative for new products. There are so many more options available to you. I guess you can say that the sky is the limit.

12. Your days will not start incredibly early

Unlike other healthcare professions, your days will start after the sun has already been up. You do not begin your workday incredibly early. This will allow you to run through the morning routine if you have kids, maybe go to the gym, or possibly run some errands. It sounds like a pretty nice lifestyle to me.

13. You can feel good about helping people smile

One of the advantages of being a dental hygienist is that you are helping people feel good about themselves through their smiles. Not everyone enjoys going to the dentist, and it can be scary for some people. As a dental hygienist, you get to help your patient by making them feel comfortable and at ease to provide quality oral healthcare. It is a rewarding career that allows you to care for others and improve the quality of their life.

The Bottom Line

Suppose you're considering becoming a dental hygienist there are many things to consider before determining if this career is for you. In that case, it is essential to understand the pros and cons of the profession before deciding to pursue this career. So, what are the pros and cons of being a dental hygienist? Although the pros and cons will differ depending on your personal preferences and interests, the top 13 pros and cons of being a dental hygienist presented here will give you a pretty good idea if this is the career you should choose to pursue.

Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.