As a third of the dental hygiene workforce contemplates job changes and retirement rates surpass graduation rates from hygiene programs, dental practices are upping their game to attract and retain top dental talent.
How many of us proudly entered our dental careers armed with a gift to give and motivated to make a real difference in our patients’ lives? I know I did! As hygienists, we are the heart of the dental team, and our love of the craft profoundly impacts our patients and colleagues.
This is why, as the dental hygiene workforce has felt increasing burnout in recent years, the ripple effect has been felt at every level of our industry. Years of mounting on-the-job pressures combined with pay disparities and global economic stressors have snowballed to epic proportions, and dental hygienists everywhere have become a force for change. The dental hygiene workforce is more proactive than ever in pursuit of new opportunities supporting better pay and better practice cultures.
For the fourth consecutive year, DentalPost’s annual salary survey puts a spotlight on the state of the RDH career, offering insights into benefits, bonuses, temping trends, and work conditions. The survey, conducted in partnership with RDH magazine between July and October 2022, is the most extensive and comprehensive of its kind, highlighting data reported by nearly 15,000 dental professionals nationwide—including 6,868 dental hygienists.
The big picture: Incomes (and income satisfaction) are on the rise!
Income satisfaction among hygienists grew by nearly 18% in the last year, with 61.5% of respondents saying they felt “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their total income. RDH incomes increased by an average of 5%, lagging behind the current national inflation rate of 7.1% for the 12 months that ended November 2022.
National average income: Full-time RDHs earned $73,745 on average, marking a 5% increase over the $70,067 average reported the previous year.
Benefits rose across private and corporate practices, but RDHs working in corporate practices are still over two times more likely to receive health insurance benefits.
More than 30% of the RDH workforce considers changing jobs
While overall satisfaction ratings with pay and benefits are up, 13% of respondents are actively looking for a new job, while another 20% are considering applying for a new job this year.
And it is not just the youngest professionals changing employers: Two-thirds of respondents with 10-plus years of clinical experience changed employers in the last five years. One-third of respondents who changed jobs in the last year have 20-plus years of experience.
Of those who applied for new jobs, just over half made a move
While 27% of respondents applied for one or more jobs last year, only 17% actually changed employers. Among those who took new jobs, 90.5% said they achieved their end goal, indicating they carefully deliberated their choices and considered several variables regarding their job satisfaction.
Pay and culture were key indicators of satisfaction
The survey revealed that the highest motivators for change were the desire for a pay increase and a more positive work environment.
Retirement rates outpace dental hygiene school output
Compounding the ongoing dental labor shortage, RDH talent is aging and retiring faster than the output of new graduates from dental hygiene programs. In the next three years, nearly 6% of full-time RDHs and 19% of part-time RDHs plan to retire.
One-third of survey respondents are 55 or older, and nearly 57% have 20-plus years of experience. Only 17% of respondents are between 22-34 years old, underscoring the critical need to attract new talent to the profession and retain mid-career professionals.
2.5% of “retirees” returned to the workforce
Hopes were that a number of the hygienists who retired or took a break from their jobs at the start of the pandemic would eventually return to work. More than two years later, only 2.5% of respondents who left their jobs have returned to the profession. Of these, 1% came back from retirement, and 1.5% resumed work after taking a break or getting laid off during the pandemic. Of the RDHs returning to the profession, 77% started back in just the last 12 months.
Temp hourly rates jumped. Will more be drawn to temping?
The average hourly rate for RDH temp work increased by 18% to $47.50. While the number of respondents working temp jobs last year did not grow, these higher hourly wages may motivate more RDHs to pursue temp opportunities in addition to or instead of their current primary employment.
See how you compare
Would you like to know how your income compares to RDHs with similar experience and certification? This information, plus details about bonuses, benefits, demographics, and working conditions appears in the complete RDH Salary Survey Report.
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Tonya Lanthier, RDH, is founder and president of DentalPost. A registered dental hygienist-turned-entrepreneur, Tonya has earned industry-wide acclaim for giving dental professionals the free tools and insights they need to advance their careers and find jobs they love.