While 2023 settled us back into a more normal work routine, many dental professionals are questioning if “normal” is right for them, as an increasing number are seeking open positions. The issues of team turnover, rapidly escalating retirement rates, and dwindling job satisfaction are looming over dentistry. As hygienists, we care so much for the health and wellness of our patients, but we can’t ignore the persistent challenges within our beloved profession.
For the fifth consecutive year, DentalPost’s annual salary survey casts a spotlight on the state of the RDH career, illuminating the compensation trends and turnover projections that are actively shaping our professional path. Conducted from August to mid-October 2023, this comprehensive survey engaged the voices of more than 4,300 dental professionals, including 1,802 dental hygienists, to offer insights into salaries, benefits, job transitions, and retirement aspirations.
The big picture: Incomes grew, satisfaction declined
For the third year in a row, RDH wages have increased, with a 7.57% rise in total income for full-time RDHs and a 7.85% rise in hourly wages.
The national average income for full-time RDHs now stands at $79,330, with more than half of respondents reporting salaries exceeding $76,000—a marked increase from the previous year's $72,000.
Average hourly rates for full-time hygienists increased to $45.75, and $46 for part-time dental hygienists.
Despite financial gains, overall satisfaction with compensation waned. Even as nearly 63% of respondents saw an increase in their wages, fewer than 50% of RDHs felt happy with their compensation, calling for a closer examination of what truly fulfills us in our careers.
A workforce on the move
Just over 19% of responding RDHs changed jobs in the past year, and a growing number of RDHs are on the hunt, as 42% are looking at new job opportunities.
Professionalism, leadership, and time are pain points
Among those who changed jobs, location, pay, and work environment were cited as the top reasons. For some, the desire for more professionalism within the team, clear leadership from dentists, and increased patient interaction has fueled these job transitions. Open comments also indicated the all-too-familiar concern that physical pain is driving nearly 5% of hygienists to seek nonclinical employment within or outside of dentistry.
A positive shift with benefits
Benefits have seen a positive shift, with 89% of respondents now enjoying some variety of employee benefits, up from just over 70% in 2022. Paid time off (PTO) and medical insurance benefits top the list of desired perks, followed by retirement/401(k) options.
Retirement rates continue to outpace hygiene school output
As the dental industry continues to grapple with the reality of labor shortages and declining graduation rates from dental hygiene schools, 35% of RDHs plan to retire in the next six years. An overwhelming 82% of these individuals are 55 years or older, underscoring the impending challenge of replenishing our ranks with fresh talent.
See how you compare
Want to know how your income compares with that of RDHs with similar experience and certification? This information, plus details about bonuses, benefits, career plans, and more appears in the complete RDH Salary Survey Report.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the January/February 2023 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.
Amanda Hill, BSDH, RDH, describes her career in dental hygiene as an adventure. Growing up and marrying into the military, she experienced dentistry throughout the world. She is a speaker, consultant, and award-winning author. A member of the advisory board for RDH magazine and the recipient of OSAP’s Emerging Infection Leader award, Hill strives to make topics in dentistry accurate, accessible, and fun.