POWERED BY THE DENTISTRY NETWORK

A profile of the RDH

RDH eVillage survey tracks job statistics for dental hygienists

Although most dental hygienists still practice in one dental office working closely with a single dentist, the changing demographics for the profession continue to indicate varied work situations, including 10% who work with five or more dentists during the course of a month.

"I enjoy my profession and do not regret going into it. It is rewarding to serve others in improving their oral health. As a single parent, it has given me a good income to support my family," noted one hygienist in the 51 to 60 age range. "Unfortunately, the economy has affected my profession. Instead of working full time, I am working part time."

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Specific articles related to this survey

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The statistics were reported as part of a "profile survey" about dental hygienists. The survey was initiated by RDH eVillage on Feb. 7, 2014. Overall, 872 dental hygienists participated.

One survey question simply asked for the number of dental offices where a dental hygienist is employed. Nationally, 63% work in just one office.

  • 24% work in two offices
  • 5% work in three offices
  • 1% work in four offices
  • 1% work in five offices

A hygienist in the 41 to 50 age range said, "I like one office I work for. The other two offices are ‘insurance offices' and very demanding. They don't care about our patients or us. There are very stressful situations where none of the employees are happy."

Another hygienist added, "I work in three different offices to make a full-time job, without any health insurance, retirement, holiday, or vacation pay. I still love hygiene, making a difference in patients' oral health for overall health."

(Six percent answered "zero," suggesting unemployment, although the survey did not specifically follow up with these answers. The survey also had an "other" option, allowing hygienists to indicate they also work in "offices" as an educator or public health volunteer, for example.)

"I like being a dental hygienist, and the money is OK too," said a hygienist in the 20 to 30 age range. "But I do not get my 40 hours a week. I have been a registered dental hygienist for three years, and in 2013 I finally landed a permanent job at two offices, but I do not have enough hours … I do not have benefits, not enough income, and I am planning on going back to school in September 2014 to change careers."

By age, dental hygienists work in multiple offices as follows:

  • Hygienists 20 to 30 years old: 57% work in one office. 34% work in two offices. 3% work in three or more offices.
  • Hygienists 31 to 40 years old: 64% work in one office. 25% work in two offices. 8% work in three or more offices.
  • Hygienists 41 to 50 years old: 66% work in one office. 21% work in two offices. 9% work in three or more offices.
  • Hygienists 51 years old and older: 62% work in one office. 23% work in two offices. 6% work in three or more offices.

Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones, Dr. Adams …

The number of doctors that hygienists work with in dental settings (single or multiple offices) varied greatly, with no clear majority. Nationally, 34% work with just one doctor during "the course of a month."

  • 24% work with two doctors
  • 18% work with three doctors
  • 9% work with four doctors
  • 10% work with five or more doctors

(Five percent indicated that they do not work with any doctors, again suggesting unemployment or a unique practice situation.)

One hygienist added, "So, at almost 56 years of age, [I am] stuck in an office with one doctor who is miserable and wants to retire, one who has no interaction with the staff and the day-to-day operations, and a third who is just an associate and is also miserable. Obviously, the morale is low, but the staff works together and gives the patients the best care we can."

By age, dental hygienists work with a single or multiple-doctor practice during the course of a month as follows:

  • Hygienists 20 to 30 years old: 23% work with just one doctor. 31% work with two doctors over the course of a month. 18% work with three doctors. 12% work with four doctors, and 12% work with five or more doctors during a month.
  • Hygienists 31 to 40 years old: 38% work with just one doctor. 21% work with two doctors over the course of a month. 17% work with three doctors. 14% work with four doctors, and 8% work with five or more doctors during a month.
  • Hygienists 41 to 50 years old: 37% work with just one doctor. 25% work with two doctors over the course of a month. 18% work with three doctors. 6% work with four doctors, and 12% work with five or more doctors during a month.
  • Hygienists 51 years old and older: 34% work with just one doctor. 24% work with two doctors over the course of a month. 17% work with three doctors. 8% work with four doctors, and 9% work with five or more doctors during a month.

A hygienist commented, "I love being a hygienist. It's a career, not just a job. When I graduated from hygiene school in 2003, there were many job options and my college had a 100% placement rate. The pay, hours, and benefits were great, but things have changed a lot, and it's really scary! Sometimes I wish I had gone to nursing school, but I think all careers are suffering these days."

The appeal of flexibility

The flexibility of the work schedule remains appealing to dental hygienists, who often schedule hours to meet family obligations or other personal interests. Nationally, just 47% of dental hygienists work 30 to 40 hours a week. In addition, 17% of dental hygienists have spent more than 20 years at their primary dental employer.

A veteran hygienist commented, "I have been practicing for 40+ years and I still love my work. I have worked part time, full time, double time, and everything in between. I am fortunate that my career has been flexible with my family needs. I don't think I would change a thing if I were given the chance to do it all over again."

One question in the survey asked dental hygienists how many hours a week they work on average. Hygienists of all age groups indicate that work schedules remain flexible throughout a career (see sidebar).

"I love the relationships I have established with my patients over the last 15 years in our practice," a hygienist said. "I love my flexible schedule and feel my pay is fair. I am able to have an important career and stay involved in my children's busy schedules by working three days a week. It works great for my family."

Loyal to just one practice?

The survey also asked dental hygienists about the number of years of employment at the practice where the dental hygienist spends the "majority" of his/her working time. More than 40% in age groups older than 30 years old have devoted six to 15 years of employment at their primary practice. Among hygienists older than 51 years, 35% have been with their primary employer for more than 15 years.

Five years or less employed at primary practice

  • Hygienists under age 30, 80%
  • Hygienists age 31 to 40, 47%
  • Hygienists age 41 to 50, 22%
  • Hygienists age 51 to 60, 19%

Six to 15 years employed at primary practice

  • Hygienists under age 30, 14%
  • Hygienists age 31 to 40, 43%
  • Hygienists age 41 to 50, 41%
  • Hygienists age 51 to 60, 41%

More than 15 years employed at primary practice

  • Hygienists age 31 to 40, 8%
  • Hygienists age 41 to 50, 29%
  • Hygienists age 51 to 60, 35%

"In my 20 years as a dental hygienist, I have been fortunate to put myself in the kind of practice situations I want to work in, and that makes being a dental hygienist worth it," one hygienist noted. "I have been in situations that the team and/or dentist and I did not see eye to eye, so I moved on. I have learned over the years that the environment I work in allows me to be the dental hygienist I want to be."

Hours worked per week

  • Hygienists under 30 years of age: 3% work less than 10 hours a week (not including unemployed hygienists); 11% work 10 to 20 hours; 22% work 20 to 30 hours; 53% work 30 to 40 hours; and 5% work more than 40 hours a week.
  • Hygienists 31 to 40 years old: 4% work less than 10 hours a week (not including unemployed hygienists); 9% work 10 to 20 hours; 34% work 20 to 30 hours; 46% work 30 to 40 hours; and 5% work more than 40 hours a week.
  • Hygienists 41 to 50 years old: 3% work less than 10 hours a week (not including unemployed hygienists); 11% work 10 to 20 hours; 21% work 20 to 30 hours; 55% work 30 to 40 hours; and 7% work more than 40 hours a week.
  • Hygienists 51 to 60 years old: 5% work less than 10 hours a week (not including unemployed hygienists); 15% work 10 to 20 hours; 25% work 20 to 30 hours; 45% work 30 to 40 hours; and 7% work more than 40 hours a week.
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