Salaries keep the bills paid

But is the profession keeping its fingers crossed that no unforeseen medical bills pop up? The 1999 RDH Salary & Benefits Survey indicates that a haphazard sprinkling of benefits awarded to dental hygienists causes the most worry.

But is the profession keeping its fingers crossed that no unforeseen medical bills pop up? The 1999 RDH Salary & Benefits Survey indicates that a haphazard sprinkling of benefits awarded to dental hygienists causes the most worry.

Mark Hartley;

data compilation by

Vicki Cheeseman,

Laura DeShazer, and

Julie Harris

The money`s good - no complaints there - but are your fingers crossed about the kids? It`s sort of in the back of your mind about that sharp pipe in the schoolyard uncovered by construc-tion workers - that, during recess, the youngest will accidentally impale himself on the sharp end. Besides the anxiety associated with such an injury, there`s the concern about whether health insurance will cover emergency room treatment - like, maybe you don`t even have it. And let`s not even talk about the hassle of calling in a "sick day" so you can remain bedside at the hospital.

Yes, the money`s good, but the recurring theme of the responses to the 1999 Salary and Benefits Survey was, "What benefits?"

In some cases, readers disliked their exclusion when other staff members received benefits. In other cases, hygienists felt a scaled-down benefits program should be offered to "part-time" employees. Some readers thought it would be nice to get a couple of weeks vacation after, say, 10 years of service. Others resented the "unemployment" that comes with the doctor`s month-long vacation. And paid holidays? You mean, people get paid to celebrate Thanksgiving at home?

But, yes, the money`s good. Nationally, the average salary reported was $36,664. If you live west of the Rockies, the average is well over $40,000. If you live down South ... well, uh, isn`t that where Alabama is? What`s different about this year`s survey is the alarm bells ringing all over the country about the financial implications of pre-ceptorship.

The average hourly rate was $24, and the average daily rate was $200. Only 102 readers indicated that they earn a fixed annual salary; the average was $38,850. Among the 196 readers who said they work strictly for commission, 40 percent of production was the average reported.

Yes, the money`s good. Only 25 percent of readers suggested they were not "generally satisfied" with their income as dental hygienists. Almost 40 percent of RDH readers predicted that their 1999 income would fall between $35,000 and $49,999. RDH has a state-by-state breakdown of statistics further along in this article.

A question about paid vacations indicated that 31 percent of hygienists received two weeks of paid vacation each year. However, 28 percent said they do not receive any paid vacation time. Eighteen percent receive three weeks of paid vacation each year, and 16 percent get one week.

Half of the readers receive three to seven paid holidays each year. In contrast, 33 percent do not receive paid holidays.

Health insurance benefits for hygienists were few. Forty-eight percent said they are not covered by any plan, and 19 percent indicated they are covered by another person`s plan, such as a spouse. Twelve percent are covered by an employer-provided managed-care plan, and 14 percent receive coverage from a traditional (80/20 or 70/30) health insurance program. Of the readers getting coverage from employers, 64 percent said the medical benefits do not include dependents.

Employers (73 percent) do tend to pay for continuing education courses attended by hygienists, and a small number (10 percent) also pay for licensure renewal.

While 25 percent indicated dissatisfaction with wages, a much higher percentage, 44 percent, were not "generally satisfied" with employer benefits.

Any discontent over salaries and benefits did not seem to indicate that many readers were considering switching careers. An overwhelming majority (77 percent) said they view clinical dental hygiene as a "life-long career." With that in mind, RDH asked readers to speculate on what will be the primary reasons for their retirement. The possible reasons for retiring were:

* The "happiness of the golden years" (34 percent)

* Occupational injury (16 percent)

* Parenting duties (11 percent)

* Lack of upward mobility (10 percent)

* Unhappiness with dental employers (10 percent)

* Other opportunities are more financially "enticing" (9 percent)

* Issues involving cross-contamination of diseases (3 percent)

* Problems obtaining licensure (2 percent)

* For reasons not listed above (6 percent)

The 22 male hygienists responding projected an average income of $43,000. The average for females was $36,500. Eleven of the men work for an average hourly rate of $25. The average for women is $24. Five of the male hygienists work for an average daily rate of $225. The figure is $200 for women.

Rookies also make more. Note how the average annual income declines with the number of years licensed:

* One to five years, $39,990

* Six to 10 years, $38,300

* 11 to 15 years, $38,000

* More than 16 years, $35,000

A state-by-state review of the data revealed the following:

Alabama

* One reader (7 percent) earns more than $35,000; eight readers (53 percent) earn between $10,000 and $26,000.

* Five readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $19; the lowest was $14.

* Two readers are paid the daily rates of $95 and $66.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $30,000 and $24,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 7

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 13

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 36

* 47 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 60 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Alabama, of course, has an infamous reputation because of its preceptorship programs. Not surprisingly, several readers commented on the effect of preceptorship on income.

"I enjoy dental hygiene," one reader wrote, "but due to the preceptorship program keeping salaries and benefits low, the opportunity for hygiene to be a career is almost financially impossible without a second source of income."

Another reader wrote, "Alabama is at the bottom, due to preceptorship. Keeps hygiene salaries low, although dental fees are equivalent to other states."

A third one warned, "Do not allow preceptorship to spread outside of Alabama. Wages are pitiful. I know. I moved here from the Midwest."

Who responded: 15 readers; 12 work full-time; eight work in suburbs and five work in urban settings; nine have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Alaska

* One of three readers earns $74,000. The other two earn $30,000 and $50,000.

* Two readers are paid the hourly rates of $45 and $40.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 67

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 33

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 33

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: Three readers; two work part-time; two work in rural settings and one works in an urban setting; two have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Arizona

* 22 readers (69 percent) earn more than $35,000, and nine (28 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 17 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $38; the lowest was $26.

* Four readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $240; the lowest was $185.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $58,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 42

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 50

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 65

* 84 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 52 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

One reader commented about the lack of full-time hygienists in her area. "As employment chairperson for our component, I find that many dentists would prefer a full-time RDH, but can`t find one. Many hygienists in Tucson want part-time work only or like working in two offices."

Another reader wrote about the escalating number of hygienists in the state. "We have four dental hygiene colleges in Arizona - no dental schools. Eighty to 100 hygienists graduate each year. Salaries are sure to drop."

Who responded: 32 readers; 18 work full-time; 17 work in urban settings and 12 work in suburbs; 22 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Arkansas

* 14 readers (70 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* One reader is paid the hourly rate of $22.

* Five readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $210; the lowest was $145.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 50

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 60

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 63

* 70 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 30 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: 20 readers; 15 work full-time; 11 work in suburbs; 17 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

California

* 129 readers (71 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 83 readers (46 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 38 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $44; the lowest was $27; 25 readers (66 percent) earn $32 to $39 an hour.

* 95 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $327; the lowest was $190; 44 readers (47 percent) earn $251 to $299 a day.

* Six readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $63,000; the lowest was $36,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 53

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 70

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 58

* 78 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 40 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Several readers offered insights to the state`s job market. "Temporary work is big in California," one reader noted. "Most offices offer straight daily pay of $250 for an eight-patient day."

Another reader said, "Salaries in Southern California are rising. I could easily make $300-plus per day if I wanted to switch employers. However, I`m very picky and most places offering that daily rate are bordering on `factories.` Not worth the extra money."

A third reader offered, "In the San Francisco/Bay Area, there is a shortage of hygienists. So salaries are going upward again. There are some jobs paying $350 a day with lots of benefits."

However, the state`s overall poor track record for benefits has some readers rethinking their options. "Women can get a much better job with better benefits with the same amount of effort it takes to become a hygienist," one reader wrote. "Two of my sisters were hygienists. One is now a corporate attorney, and the other one is a top sales executive."

A second reader said, "When young people ask me about being a hygienist, I tell them exactly what they are walking into - good salary, mostly no benefits, plus the doctors` attitudes toward hygienists."

Who responded: 181 readers; 97 work full-time; 95 work in suburbs and 62 work in urban settings; 125 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Colorado

* 43 readers (78 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 15 readers (27 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 41 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $36; the lowest was $21; 21 readers (51 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* Seven readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $265; the lowest was $170.

* Three readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $43,000, $38,700, and $36,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 24

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 31

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 35

* 82 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 58 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

One reader, who earns $28 an hour, stated, "I make less per hour than others in my area. But I love my patients. And since I`ve been there six years, I prefer to take lower pay and have three weeks of paid vacation and paid holidays, plus the $250 per month he puts in my pension plan."

Another reader stated, "Dental hygiene salaries have not even kept up with the increases in cost of living. I have worked for my present dentist for 41/2 years and have received one raise of an additional dollar per hour two years ago."

Colorado, known as one of the first states to promote independent practice, struggles with current preceptorship trends too. "I am concerned about the trend toward more production and lower quality of product," a reader wrote. "Dentists talk out of both sides of their mouths. Hygienists are not qualified to do traditional procedures, yet they can train people off the street to do the job of hygienists."

Who responded: 55 readers; 37 work full-time; 38 work in suburbs; 33 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Connecticut

* 24 readers (65 percent) responding earn more than $35,000.

* 29 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $32; the lowest was $20; 13 readers (45 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* Three readers are paid daily rates of $238, $206, and $140.

* Three readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $40,000, $39,125, and $39,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 27

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 24

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 51

* 73 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 49 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

"Advances in salaries and benefits have slowed to a crawl in many areas of Connecticut," said one reader. Another reader added, "It`s obvious in Connecticut that dentists hire practically all part-time hygienists in order to avoid benefits. Hourly wages are decent in nonurban areas."

In writing about the lack of upward mobility, one reader observed, "Being a hygienist has been good for me. However, in the health professions, many new careers have popped up - none in the dental field. I would like to see the equivalent of a nurse practitioner or physician`s assistant. We need to expand our horizons."

A fourth reader commented, "Although I am satisfied with my employer and my hourly wage, I would like to be thought of as more of a full-time employee and receive other benefits such as paid vacations, paid holidays, and especially retirement packages. In order to establish long-term relationships and good rapport with our patients, dental hygienists should be encouraged to remain in one practice."

Who responded: 37 readers; 22 work full-time; 25 work in suburbs; 19 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Delaware

* Seven readers (88 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* Six readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $32; the lowest was $24.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $35,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 13

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 13

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 13

* 63 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 63 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

One reader wrote, "I feel salaries and benefits are getting worse for hygienists. Doctors are continually taking back vacation, personal days, and not giving raises."

A second one observed, "My employer still has not started some kind of retirement fund. Every year, for the past five years, he says, `Definitely this April`."

Who responded: Eight readers; seven work full-time; six work in suburbs; five have been licensed for more than 15 years.

District of Columbia

* One of three readers earns $62,000. The other two earn $45,000 and $22,000.

* One reader is paid the daily rate of $215.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 33

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 0

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 33

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: Three readers; two work full-time; all three have been licensed for more than 25 years.

Florida

* 66 readers (58 percent) earn more than $35,000; 18 readers (16 percent) earn between $10,000 and $26,000.

* 49 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $31; the lowest was $15; 21 readers (43 percent) earn $21 to $23 an hour.

* 54 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $250; the lowest was $120. 24 readers (45 percent) earn $185 to $215 a day.

* Five readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $51,000; the lowest was $22,620.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 23

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 29

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 51

* 70 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 48 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Florida, with its mixture of out-of-state transplants and two-year hygiene degree programs, generates some interesting comments. "The proliferation of community college hygiene programs has dumped so many hygienists into the workforce that I now earn (in real dollars) what I did in the 1960s and early 1970s. They are not as well-trained either."

Another hygienist wrote, "I sustained a substantial salary and benefit loss by moving to Florida. But the biggest blow was attitude. Instead of being valued as an integral part of the dental team, it`s a `them against us` attitude."

The state`s proximity to Alabama prompted some concerns over preceptorship too. "Florida hygienists are on the endangered species list because of organized dentistry`s attack on formal education for hygienists and more duties are being delegated to assistants," one reader said.

There were two observations about salary and benefit trends in the state. One reader noted, "I was working in northwest Florida where the pay is only $125 to $140 a day and no benefits. But, in south Florida, everything is better!" The second observation was, "In this area, newly licensed hygienists with no experience are paid the same $200 a day as experienced hygienists."

Who responded: 114 readers; 75 work full-time; 72 work in suburbs; 61 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Georgia

* 22 readers (54 percent) earn more than $35,000; seven readers (17 percent) earn between $30,000 and $32,000.

* 12 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $30; the lowest was $18.

* 17 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $207; the lowest was $120.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $27,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 20

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 27

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 46

* 75 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 68 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist earning the daily rate of $150 commented, "Living in a small community, my salary and benefits are determined by all of the dentists in town."

A newcomer to Georgia wrote, "Having moved here from California, it was hard to readjust to such lower salaries, which doesn`t coincide with cost of living."

A third reader observed, "The doctor I am working for has the same fees as doctors in Dallas, Texas. Salary is $10 an hour more in Dallas than in Vidalia, Georgia."

A fourth reader observed, "I have been with my present employer four years and only receive one week of vacation and have had one raise. Talk about lack of motivation! However, I love my patients; and this is peace of mind and job security."

Who responded: 41 readers; 29 work full-time; 25 work in suburbs; 21 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Hawaii

* One of two readers earns $60,000; the other one earns $35,000.

* Both readers are paid the hourly rates of $29 and $22.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 0

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 0

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 0

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: Two readers; both work full-time; one works in a rural setting and the other one works in an urban setting; both have been licensed for more than 10 years.

Idaho

* 11 readers (58 percent) earn more than $35,000 and 22 percent earn more than $50,000.

* Nine readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $36; the lowest was $22.

* Eight readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $280; the lowest was $182.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 47

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 58

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 63

* 79 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 26 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A rural hygienist working for the hourly rate of $22.25 said, "I feel that, in our area, pay is very low compared to the rest of the state and nation."

Another reader, who earns in excess of $45,000 annually, wrote, "I continue to be disappointed that our employers begrudge what they pay us. I have put into place four perio programs where none existed. My doctors were happy to pay me high hourly rates until the program was well up and running. Each time, I was replaced by new grads willing to work for a much cheaper wage."

Who responded: 19 readers; 10 work full-time; 11 work in rural settings; 10 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Illinois

* 55 readers (50 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 20 percent earn more than $50,000; 24 readers earn between $10,000 and $26,000.

* 88 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $40; the lowest was $14; 30 readers (34 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* Three readers are paid the daily rates of $231, $180, and $150.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $55,200 and $39,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 31

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 34

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 55

* 77 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 57 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

The trend of "part-time" dental hygiene promoted several readers to write final comments on the survey. "I continue to see doctors complain about lack of hygienists, but very few offer full-time employment, so employment opportunities are limited," one reader said.

Another reader wrote, "Doctors would rather hire part-time hygienists to cut benefit packages." A third one added, "Most area dentists are hiring several part-time hygienists to reduce overhead and benefits. Salaries are increased as scheduling flexibility is decreased and production increased."

A reader alluded to a shortage of hygienists by saying, "New graduates are making high salaries due to a shortage of hygienists in the area."

Who responded: 111 readers; 67 work full-time; 62 work in suburbs; 56 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Indiana

* 24 readers (51 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 31 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $28; the lowest was $17; 12 readers (39 percent) earn $21 to $23 an hour.

* Five readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $192; the lowest was $150.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $31,200 and $28,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 26

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 28

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 61

* 87 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 58 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist earning $14 an hour with 30 percent commission wrote, "I think my dental office is very competitive and above the norm for my setting in a small community. I would like an affordable health benefits plan since my husband is self-employed as well."

An urban hygienist observed, "I think you have to look long and hard to find an employer who gives a hygienist the same benefits as any other full-time employee."

A hygienist working at three offices said, "I am employed in a community that has a dental hygiene school. This makes it very difficult to find employment and receive raises. The hygiene school has now expanded its program to accept more students. Dentists in this area feel as though hygienists are a dime a dozen and, therefore, do not increase pay or add benefits."

Who responded: 47 readers; 30 work full-time; 25 work in suburbs; 27 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Iowa

* 14 readers (56 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 20 percent earn more than $50,000.

* 13 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $25; the lowest was $17.

* Two readers are paid the daily rates of $175 and $155.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $45,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 17

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 32

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 60

* 84 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 68 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A suburban hygienist working in three practices said, "Dental hygiene suffers from a serious illness: Failure to thrive. The only redeeming feature is the capacity to work part-time. But too high a price is paid for that, such as lack of benefits and constantly fighting to get what one is due."

A veteran hygienist earning an hourly rate of $18.85 said, "I wish dentists would be more willing to keep their current staff happy. It`s unfortunate that they will pay a new employee more per hour than staff members who have been loyal for years - ones already trained in office procedures and practices. Apparently, all the years of service and clinical experience don`t mean a thing!"

Who responded: 25 readers; 17 work full-time; 10 work in suburbs and seven work in rural settings; 16 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Kansas

* 14 readers (54 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 10 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $39; the lowest was $21.

* Eight readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $240; the lowest was $174.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $36,000 and $30,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 31

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 39

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 58

* 96 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 65 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

An urban, part-time hygienist said, "As a professional, I find it my responsibility to obtain insurance, pay for sick leave and vacations, and plan for retirement. It was definitely a special benefit to have a pension plan, but it was not expected."

A hygienist earning the daily rate of $175 noted, "Benefits need to improve. I was the only one in the office who had to wait six years for a paid vacation."

Who responded: 26 readers; 16 work full-time; 11 work in rural settings and nine work in suburbs; 17 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Kentucky

* 12 readers (44 percent) earn more than $35,000; seven readers (26 percent) earn between $10,000 and $26,000.

* 16 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $25; the lowest was $15.

* One reader is paid the daily rate of $185, and the other two earn $150 a day.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $41,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 30

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 30

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 56

* 54 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 56 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: 27 readers; 20 work full-time; 13 work in suburbs and nine work in rural settings; 14 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Louisiana

* 12 readers (60 percent) earn more than $35,000; four readers (20 percent) earn between $30,000 and $35,000.

* Four readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $25; the lowest was $19.

* Seven readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $200; the lowest was $152.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $32,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 50

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 45

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 70

* 79 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 30 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist on 45 percent commission who expected to earn $50,000 in 1999 wrote, "I feel that a hygienist should always be compensated by commission. It is very fair to the hygienist. Other payment options are not always fair due to the production outweighing the daily or hourly salary by a vast amount."

A hygienist working for a $25 hourly rate said, "I think the doctor needs to be more aware of how important hygienists are to the practice and the productivity we bring to the office. Stop whining about our salaries and give us more benefits."

A hygienist on 33 percent commission (plus 2 percent of monthly hygiene total) who projected a 1999 income of $85,000 said, "I work in a large practice, but we are in a small town located next to a military base. My doctors are very understanding and we have a great relationship."

Who responded: 20 readers; 13 work full-time; seven work in suburbs and seven work in urban settings; 12 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Maine

* Eight readers (32 percent) earn less than $26,000. Nine readers (36 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 23 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $25; the lowest was $15.

* One reader is paid a daily rate of $150.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $22,500.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 12

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 8

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 29

* 56 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 76 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist with a degree in chemistry and who currently earns $21.75 an hour said, "I am currently back to work as a dental hygienist because it allows me to work part-time, thereby spending more time with my family. Dental hygiene is a job that is left at the office, for the most part. The dentist sets the limitations as to the upward movement of a hygienist. If all offices are charging their patients the same hygiene fees, then all hygienists are paid the same. This is the case in my office where a hygienist with 20 years` experience is paid the same as a hygienist with six years` experience."

An urban reader earning $21 an hour said, "There`s too much disparity between regions. I`ve practiced in four states and overseas. Remuneration does not depend on what you bring in, but, rather, how badly the dentist needs you and whether there is someone waiting for work for less. There are more two-year schools in the East, and no credit is given to someone with a four-year degree. I`m extremely unhappy with what I`ve made in New York and Maine versus Idaho and California."

Who responded: 25 readers; 18 work full-time; 13 work in rural settings; 14 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Maryland

* 18 readers (53 percent) earn more than $35,000, and seven (21 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 22 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $35; the lowest was $17; 12 readers (55 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* Eight readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $250; the lowest was $160.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 36

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 44

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 50

* 75 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 52 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time hygienist on 40 percent commission commented, "I think it will be interesting to see how the bulk of the Baby Boomer hygienists fare during retirement. I think that women in general have sacrificed a lot of the flexibility of the work force, and dentists know that and benefit greatly."

A full-time, suburban hygienist said, "My salary has always been good to above average. But having no benefit plan is insulting. A part-time hygienist is entitled to a `part-time` benefit plan."

A hygienist working in four offices said, "Hygiene is great if you can get health insurance and retirement through a significant other. Someone should let people know that if you go into hygiene, plan on being married. Because if you`re not, you pay for everything yourself. I have even worked for a dentist who said, `I will not hire a hygienist full-time. I`m not going to pay for benefits when I can hire two or more hygienists.` I even had one dentist tell me, `Get married.` Sorry! That`s not going to happen."

Who responded: 34 readers; 18 work full-time; 29 work in suburbs; 20 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Massachusetts

* 31 readers (53 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 44 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $30; the lowest was $17; 17 readers (39 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* Four readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $208; the lowest was $150.

* Four readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $60,000; the lowest was $22,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 16

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 22

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 44

* 81 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 68 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A veteran suburban hygienist earning $27 an hour said, "Find a good employer, one who is fair, and everything will fall into place. They are out there. Don`t settle for someone who doesn`t value your skills. Keep looking. Salary is good, but working conditions and being treated as a valued employee are even more important."

A full-time hygienist earning $29 an hour said, "Most dentists hire part-time hygienists so they do not have to pay benefits. I worked part-time as a nurse for 14 years and received benefits in every job."

A full-time hygienist earning $21 an hour said, "Raises are not yearly. New grads from the area schools start at higher salaries. I feel that my employer would like to get several part-time hygienists, so he wouldn`t have to pay for retirement or vacations."

Who responded: 58 readers; 37 work full-time; 33 work in suburbs; 41 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Michigan

* 59 readers (49 percent) earn more than $35,000; 24 readers (20 percent) earn between $30,000 and $35,000.

* 85 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $31; the lowest was $15; 32 readers (38 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* 15 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $201; the lowest was $101.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $58,000 and $40,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 21

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 28

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 48

* 68 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 58 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A reader earning $22 an hour in a suburban practice said, "I am just now up to the hourly wage I was making on the east side of the state (Detroit area) five years ago, but the benefits outweigh the lower wage by far!" She indicated that she receives paid vacation and holidays, a 401(k) plan, and reimbursement for continuing education.

A hygienist in her early thirties commented, "Before having children, I had no problems finding employment. Now that I`m a Mom, I feel that I`m being discriminated against. The dentists don`t ask on the interviews if you have kids, because they know it`s against the law. But I`m finding staff members and office managers ask the question, "Do you have children?" When they find out that I have two toddlers, I think they`re afraid to hire me because of possible absences due to sick children. Very sad situation for Moms who have to work to make ends meet."

A reader earning $23 an hour in two practices commented, "Some temp agencies are now offering benefits to entice hygienists to work with them."

A part-time hygienist in a suburban general practice wrote, "My doctors are very generous with extras throughout the year: $100 birthday gift certificates, lunches for Valentine`s Day and Secretaries` Day, etc. They also have paid all expenses for American Dental Association conventions. Also, there are no restrictions on equipment or instruments that we want."

Who responded: 120 readers; 75 work full-time; 68 work in suburbs; 62 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Minnesota

* 31 readers (61 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 20 percent earn more than $50,000. Nine readers (18 percent) earn between $32,000 and $35,000.

* 47 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $33; the lowest was $17; 16 readers (34 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* One reader is paid the daily rate of $173.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $57,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 14

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 10

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 29

* 84 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 66 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist earning $20.50 an hour wrote, "Salaries and benefits are a disgrace, but with an oversupply of hygienists in our area, the bargaining power is nil."

A rural hygienist on the other side of age 40 wrote, "I never gave a thought to retirement benefits when I was just out of school. I now wish that those benefits were more prevalent in the dental hygiene profession."

A suburban hygienist earning $20.70 an hour said, "I`ve read articles saying my attitude is wrong. I love being a hygienist, and I`m good with my patients. I just need positive reinforcements."

Who responded: 51 readers; 31 work full-time; 26 work in suburbs and 13 work in rural settings; 27 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Mississippi

* Two of the eight readers responding earn more than $35,000.

* One reader is paid according to an hourly rate of $17.

* Five readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $225; the lowest was $125.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $32,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 13

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 13

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 50

* 88 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 75 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time hygienist earning an hourly rate of $17 noted, "I`m very satisfied with having a flexible, well-paying job. Most women don`t have the pleasures I have at my job."

A part-time hygienist earning a daily rate of $225 said, "Benefits are offered to full-time hygienists. I chose to work part-time (new Mom)."

Who responded: Eight readers; four work full-time; five work in suburbs; seven have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Missouri

* Half of 30 readers earn more than $35,000. Six readers (20 percent) earn between $32,000 and $35,000, and five (17 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 18 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $27; the lowest was $20.

* Seven readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $239; the lowest was $135.

* Five readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $57,000; the lowest was $33,600.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 20

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 13

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 40

* 83 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 59 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist earning $22 an hour said, "I work 36 hours a week. Doctor considers this part-time. No medical benefits because I`m married. Other employees have medical benefits. They work full-time (40 hours). My husband is retired. We could use the benefit of health insurance."

A suburban hygienist earning $25 an hour said, "I work in fee-for-service dental offices. Patient load is down due to closed panel and other dental insurance plans. My hours of work have been reduced over the past five years due to loss of patients."

A rural, full-time hygienist wrote, "As of now, I am satisfied with my salary. However, I feel the longer I stay in this field, the less likely I am to continue to get substantial raises. The dentist feels there is a limit to the dollar amount. In other words, you top out."

A hygienist earning $20 an hour said, "While I would like to bring home more money and have a few more benefits, I do, on the other hand, really like my boss and co-workers. I work in an office that is caring and patient-oriented. I have been offered a job right across the street for $5 more per hour and retirement. At first I took it, but, in the end, I had to back out because I didn`t feel that office`s philosophy was the same as mine. Peace of mind is worth more than just money."

Who responded: 30 readers; 21 work full-time; 18 work in suburbs; 16 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Montana

* Three readers (43 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* Three readers are paid the hourly rates of $22, $23, and $25.

* Three readers are paid the daily rates of $200, $162, and $147.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $34,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 29

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 43

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 57

* 57 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 83 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

The hygienist earning a fixed salary wrote, "I am not `generally satisfied` because Montana is generally a low-paying state, and I feel my employer takes advantage of this."

A hygienist earning $23 an hour said, "The salaries of hygienists have not grown according to growth of fees and earnings of dentists. Hygienists receive a much lower percentage of their production than 20 years ago."

Who responded: Seven readers; four work part-time; three work in rural settings and three work in urban settings; four have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Nebraska

* Half of the 16 readers earn more than $35,000. Four readers (25 percent) earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* Eight readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $28; the lowest was $21.

* Four readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $200; the lowest was $180.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 25

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 31

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 75

* 81 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 56 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A rural hygienist earning $21 an hour said, "The benefits have always needed improvement. I feel that we are somewhat discriminated against because we are largely a female population. They feel that we can rely on husband`s benefits."

A hygienist earning $7 an hour at 20 percent commission in a periodontist`s office said, "I personally do not like being paid on a commission basis. I don`t like the fact that, to make money, someone has to have problems. A lot is out of our hands - flu bugs, bad weather, and no shows."

A rural hygienist earning $14 and 17 percent commission said, "Our annual year-end bonus was decreased by 75 percent after the doctor enrolled in a management course."

Who responded: 16 readers; 10 work full-time; six work in rural settings and six work in urban settings; nine have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Nevada

* 11 readers (73 percent) earn more than $35,000, and nine readers (60 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* Three readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $37; the lowest was $34.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 29

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 43

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 36

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: 15 readers; 10 work full-time; nine work in urban settings; 10 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

New Hampshire

* Nine readers (60 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 11 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $28; the lowest was $15.

* One reader is paid a daily rate of $120.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 27

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 40

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 33

* 80 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A rural hygienist earning $21 an hour said, "It seems to be common practice that doctors avoid paying benefits at all costs by either hiring part-timers and crying poverty."

A suburban hygienist earning $22 an hour wrote, "I love hygiene and have been in the field for 40-plus years. The expanded duties and the continual improvements in our field have kept me in dentistry."

But another long-time veteran observed, "I feel that dentistry is concerned too much with marketing and `scheduling for production.` That is why I am retiring."

A hygienist earning $22.50 an hour said, "I feel that my wage should be based on a higher percentage of the fees for each service."

Who responded: 15 readers; nine work full-time; nine work in suburbs; 12 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

New Jersey

* 41 readers (62 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 17 readers (26 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 51 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $33; the lowest was $23; 31 readers (61 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* Three readers are paid daily rates of $230, $225, and $195.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 27

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 32

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 44

* 77 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 56 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist older than 50 and who earns an hourly rate of $28 said, "I worked in an office that had benefits and hated it. Now I work in a great office with no benefits. I`ll take this office over benefits!"

A hygienist earning a daily rate of $225 said, "The rest of the business world has caught on to the brilliant dental concept of part-time/no benefits. I`ve worked in the same practice for 21 years and never had a paid sick day. My employer gives us a paid week or two of vacation ... maybe. He`s a good guy, but this system stinks."

A hygienist earning an hourly rate of $26.75 said, "I understand that I do well for a hygienist. However, most of my friends (age 35) in other professions earn twice as much, if not more, than I do."

A suburban hygienist earning $31 an hour said, "Hygienists have hurt our profession by accepting to work two jobs or more to make up a full-time 35- to 40-hour week. Also, dentists expect us to lose out when patients cancels their appointment. Are we being punished because our patients don`t come in?"

Who responded: 66 readers; 36 work full-time; 57 work in suburbs; 33 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

New Mexico

* 12 readers (67 percent) earn more than $35,000, and five readers (27 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* Six readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $32; the lowest was $25.

* Six readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $275; the lowest was $170.

* Two readers are paid fixed annual salaries of $39,500 and $33,120.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 18

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 39

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 39

* 83 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A hygienist earning the daily rate of $245 said, "I refuse to let money be the driving factor in where I work. Money won`t keep you smiling every day at work. You should find a working environment where you can be your best, where you agree with the philosophy, and where you leave each day feeling satisfied. The money will come if you follow your heart."

A part-time hygienist earning an hourly rate of $28 wrote, "I graduated in 1958 and have had a wonderful career in hygiene. But if I were single, I would want more benefits."

A suburban hygienist said, "I have been in the same office for 12 years and have had to beg, fight, and threaten for all benefits and salary increases."

An urban hygienist earning the hourly rate of $25 said, "If dentists offered retirement plans, I feel more hygienists would stay at one office for more years and look at their jobs as a career."

Who responded: 18 readers; 12 work full-time; eight work in urban settings and six work in suburbs; 20 have been licensed for more than 12 years.

New York

* 49 (34 percent) earn more than $35,000; 38 readers (27 percent) earn between $26,000 and $32,000; and 21 readers (15 percent) earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* 109 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $37; the lowest was $14; 42 readers (39 percent) earn $15 to $18 an hour.

* 13 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $270; the lowest was $126.

* Nine readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $52,000; the lowest was $29,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 26

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 26

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 53

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A rural hygienist earning the hourly rate of $23.50 wrote, "Hygiene has enabled me to raise four children on my own with dignity. After 40 years of fulfillment, I wish I could be around to enjoy all the new advancements and technology our profession will enjoy in the new millennium."

A part-time hygienist earning an hourly rate of $20 said, "When I accepted the position at this office, I was excited. I walked into a hygiene department that was hardly making $2,000 a month. In four years, I now produce an average of $8,000. In some months, I top $12,000. The dentist and his wife are so happy about the increase in profit. While I used to make $36,000 a year, I now make $30,000. I am glad the practice owners are happy with this increase of income and patient satisfaction. But while they are laughing all the way to the bank, I have had to cancel my professional membership and liability insurance because of my pay cut."

A hygienist earning the hourly rate of $20.50 noted, "I`ve been at the same practice for 12 years, and I`m disappointed after finding out that a new hygienist who fills in for us is making more than me."

A hygienist in upstate New York said, "When I graduated from hygiene school in 1967, our salaries were similar to, if not more than, the RN. Their salary has obviously grown more than ours and now an LPN without our level of education makes more."

Who responded: 143 readers; 82 work full-time; 84 work in suburbs; 91 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

North Carolina

* 40 readers (64 percent) earn more than $35,000; 10 readers (16 percent) earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* 27 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $45; the lowest was $19; 10 readers (37 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* 22 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $225; the lowest was $140.

* Eight readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $42,840; the lowest was $21,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 19

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 22

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 22

* 76 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 57 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

An urban, full-time hygienist earning the daily rate of $160 said, "At my current employer, we had life insurance, profit sharing, bonuses, and a group health plan 10 years ago. Now we have a limited amount toward health insurance, no life insurance, and a poor retirement plan."

A rural hygienist, who has been practicing for less than five years, said, "I`ve found that hygienists hold a power for outsmarting the doctor in daily pay, benefits, and paid holidays. Doctors seem to want you to haggle over what should be expected. In each office, I had to demand what I felt I was worth as a hygienist. More doctors need to take into account we are not trained to rip them off - only to care for our patients and respect our fellow team members."

A suburban hygienist working for 30 percent commission said, "What better career choice is there? We have four-day workweeks, full benefits, and terrific salaries. Plus, it`s a great job."

A rural hygienist on a fixed salary said, "Dentists in North Carolina are now training dental assistants to perform polishing, and hygienists are not being hired. Patients don`t get a thorough prophy, and salaries are low and stagnant. My salary has declined with time. But I`m in an area of limited dental practice, and dentists have banded together to regulate salary limits."

Who responded: 63 readers; 50 work full-time; 21 work in urban areas, 21 work in suburbs, and 19 work in rural settings; 39 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

North Dakota

* Three readers (20 percent) earn more than $35,000. Six readers (40 percent) earn between $30,000 and $35,000.

* 10 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $31; the lowest was $16.

* One reader is paid the daily rate of $175.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $36,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 40

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 53

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 60

* 74 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

An urban hygienist working for the hourly rate of $22.33 said, "I enjoy my career and my employer. I sometimes am disenchanted by family-owned businesses where financial peaks and valleys influence my pay scale."

A hygienist currently working in the public-health setting said, "I was no longer finding the hourly wage an issue by the time I quit (private practice) five years ago. But I had found over the years that - no matter full-time or part-time - benefits were usually nonexistent. In the 12-plus years I practiced, I received two weeks of paid vacation and dental benefits for my family and me for about three years. I also received $1,200 in retirement benefits - two years after I had left a particular job. I received it only because the dentist had been audited by the IRS. They discovered that I had not been provided retirement benefits when other employees had, and they required the dentist to pay the benefits to me, retroactively, or pay the IRS significant penalties."

Who responded: 46 readers; 30 work full-time; 18 work in suburbs, 14 work in rural settings, and 14 work in urban settings; 24 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Ohio

* 35 readers (36 percent) earn more than $35,000; 29 readers (30 percent) earn between $10,000 and $26,000.

* 61 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $27; the lowest was $10; 28 readers (46 percent) earn $21 to $23 an hour.

* 14 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $254; the lowest was $105.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $40,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 38

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 43

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 54

* 80 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 66 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, rural hygienist wrote, "I fear the new law allowing dental assistants to polish will cause salaries to decline, and many dentists will take advantage of the opportunity by scheduling patients with assistants and not a hygienist. I hope that most dentists will value the formal education and professionalism of the hygienist, but I have seen where the bottom line too often dictates a practice."

A full-time hygienist earning $17 an hour said, "Some of my hygiene classmates and friends seem to have an attitude about hourly wages and overlook benefits. The most important thing is the quality of dentistry coming from their offices and how well we are treated."

A part-time, suburban hygienist earning an hourly rate of $27 said, "It seems you get to a certain `ceiling` amount and I`m uncertain how to negotiate further growth."

A full-time, urban hygienist said, "There are very few dentists in this area of Northwest Ohio that provide any type of benefits for dental hygienists. It is very difficult to find a full-time position with benefits."

Who responded: 97 readers; 49 work full-time; 59 work in suburbs; 62 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Oklahoma

* Seven readers (54 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* One reader is paid the hourly rate of $22.

* Eight readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $225; the lowest was $150.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 42

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 62

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 50

* 54 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 54 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time, urban hygienist commented, "Salaries start out fairly well but plateau early in one`s career and never really improve thereafter. But the career provides lots of freedom in scheduling."

A full-time hygienist earning a daily rate of $150 said, "Benefits have to be included. A salesperson with no education at Sears makes $31,000 a year with benefits."

Oregon

* 33 readers (72 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 14 readers (30 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 33 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $33; the lowest was $18; 24 readers (56 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* Seven readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $250; the lowest was $200.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $50,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 25

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 33

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 29

* 82 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, rural hygienist earning $27 an hour said, "I feel `used` because my employers will not consider offering any benefits, even though I have been faithful and flexible to accommodate their needs."

An urban hygienist earning an hourly rate of $30 said, "I have been with my doctor since 1981. The rewards and benefits have improved over the years as the practice grew and my commitment also - longevity counts! It took awhile to get the right mix, but the group we have now will probably be together until the doctor retires in about four or five years. My doctor is very generous to all of us. What a difference when you have the right mix or blend of people."

A part-time hygienist earning $30 an hour said, "I feel that central Oregon pays hygienists lower than other parts of Oregon because this is a desirable place to live. The dentist I work for charges more than the dentists I worked for in Portland, where I made more money."

Who responded: 46 readers; 30 work full-time; 18 work in suburbs, 14 work in rural settings, and 14 work in urban settings; 24 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Pennsylvania

* 49 readers (42 percent) earn more than $35,000; 32 readers (28 percent) earn less than $26,000.

* 88 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $33; the lowest was $14; 26 readers (30 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour.

* Six readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $192; the lowest was $108.

* Seven readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $50,000; the lowest was $30,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 26

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 32

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 45

* 74 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, suburban hygienist wrote, "Recently, in our office, two hygienists discussed salaries. It was found that the established hygienist of four years, who is always praised for her flexibility and reliability was making $1 an hour less than what the dentists were starting new hygienists at! Needless to say, they will be losing this quality employee."

A part-time hygienist earning an hourly rate of $17.25 said, "Although this is a rural area and dental hygiene graduates are not saturating the market, doctors are tight and won`t treasure their dental hygienist with any perks if they don`t have to. It`s very frustrating."

A full-time hygienist earning $21 an hour said, "Sometimes I fail to realize that every profession has its ups and downs. I also forget how lucky I am financially."

A suburban hygienist working for 33 percent commission said, "Dentists don`t see employees as career personnel. Hygienists are only seen as the biggest check to write on payday."

Who responded: 116 readers; 68 work full-time; 67 work in suburbs; 63 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Rhode Island

* 11 readers (65 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* 15 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $26; the lowest was $20.

* One reader is paid a daily rate of $184.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 12

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 12

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 29

* 71 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 59 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time, suburban hygienist earning $22 an hour said, "Dentists generally believe the hygienist is overpaid and are reluctant to give benefits - even part-time benefits if their hygienist works 20 hours or more."

A full-time, urban hygienist earning $24 an hour said, "I feel I am well-paid for a dental hygienist, but I feel that after 20 years as a `professional,` I should have more."

A part-time hygienist earning $21.25 an hour wrote, "I wish this profession had a union to back it up. I hate the fact that wages, etc., vary so much from office to office and that everything depends on the doctors you work for. It should be regulated."

A full-time, suburban hygienist earning an hourly rate of $21.95 (she wrote beside the daily rate, "We can`t figure out how he came up with the 95 cents.") said, "It is disheartening to know that, after 13 years of full-time experience, I make less money than many graduates."

Who responded: 17 readers; 14 work full-time; 11 work in suburbs; nine have been licensed for less than 15 years.

South Carolina

* Six readers (50 percent) earn more than $35,000.

* Five readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $24; the lowest was $18.

* Five readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $180; the lowest was $150.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 8

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 0

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 27

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 67 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, rural hygienist earning the daily rate of $180 said, "In my area, hygienists make $20 an hour right out of school. It took me 13 years to make this."

A part-time, suburban hygienist earning the hourly rate of $19.25 said, "Since graduating in 1985 and working in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, I have been totally disillusioned and disappointed in most of my experiences in dentistry, I am sad to say."

A full-time, suburban hygienist earning the daily rate of $180 said, "In our area, the local college has flooded, and still is flooding, the market with hygienists. So this is what is keeping our salary down right now."

A full-time hygienist earning the hourly rate of $19 wrote, "Working for small businesses, we do not receive benefits such as maternity leave or sick days (when we are sick, we are condemned). I was working in Miami, Fla., four months ago. I made $4.50 more each hour, had longer scheduled appointments, and better benefits."

Who responded: 12 readers; 10 work full-time; seven work in rural settings; 11 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

South Dakota

* One of two readers responding earns $38,000. The other one earns $35,000.

* Both readers are paid according to an hourly rate. One earns $23 an hour; the other one earns $18 an hour.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 0

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 0

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 0

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: Two readers; both work full-time; one works in a rural area and one works in an urban area; both have been licensed for more than six years.

Tennessee

* 17 readers (44 percent) earn more than $35,000; 17 other readers earn between $22,000 and $35,000.

* Six readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $22; the lowest was $15.

* 18 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $210; the lowest was $131.

* Four readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $46,800; the lowest was $35,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 26

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 28

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 53

* 74 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time, suburban hygienist who receives no benefits wrote, "My husband is disabled. I am supporting my family and putting him through college, so he can work again someday. Hygiene is wonderful. I am glad to have it. My bookkeeping job does not pay nearly as well."

A full-time, suburban hygienist earning the daily rate of $131 said, "It seems like a lot of employers want to pay the least possible and expect you to work under stressful conditions forever - with no raises."

A part-time, rural hygienist said, "As a part-time dental hygienist with a husband making a good salary, my income is very good. However, if my family or I had to depend solely on my income, it leaves a lot to be desired."

Who responded: 39 readers; 26 work full-time; 21 work in suburbs and 11 work in urban settings; 21 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Texas

* 60 readers (59 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 14 percent earn more than $50,000; 12 readers (12 percent) earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* 39 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $32; the lowest was $18; 14 readers (36 percent) earn $24 to $26 an hour, and 14 other readers earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* 34 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $250; the lowest was $140. 15 readers (44 percent) earn $185 to $215 a day.

* Nine readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $70,000; the lowest was $32,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 37

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 44

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 63

* 72 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 55 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, suburban hygienist earning the hourly rate of $22 said, "HMOs will do away with our profession in the upcoming years. I discourage young ladies from following in my footsteps."

A part-time, suburban hygienist earning the daily rate of $185 wrote, "After 10 years of working for the same dentist, I would be very happy if I could just get two weeks of paid vacation per year."

A suburban hygienist with more than 20 years` experience observed, "The doctor is using temporary hygienists, paying close to $30 an hour plus the agency fee. Then he gets upset when I ask for a raise, even though I`ve been there 10 years and am paid $65 less daily."

A rural, part-time hygienist said, "My doctor has been told by consultants that a `pat on the back` is worth more to employees than money. Get real!"

Who responded: 102 readers; 65 work full-time; 47 work in suburbs and 35 work in urban settings; 54 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Utah

* Six of the 10 readers earn more than $35,000, and four readers earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* All six readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $320; the lowest was $225.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 70

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 78

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 80

* 70 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 20 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time, rural hygienist said, "Unfortunately, there is no distinction between associate`s or bachelor`s degrees, and, for the most part, pay does not reflect experience or skill."

A full-time, urban hygienist wrote, "It is because I am paid more than anyone else in our office that I don`t get the same benefits. I get six paid vacation days per year while everyone else gets 21. The dentist takes at least three weeks off during the year, so this leaves my paycheck short too much of the time."

Who responded: 10 readers; six work full-time; five work in suburbs; six have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Vermont

* Half of the readers earned more than $35,000, the other half below $30,000.

* Eight readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $26; the lowest was $19.

* One reader is paid a daily rate of $185.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 30

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 30

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 40

* 100 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 60 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: 10 readers; seven work full-time; six work in rural settings; seven have been licensed for more than 15 years.

Virginia

* 41 readers (80 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 29 percent earn more than $50,000.

* 20 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $30; the lowest was $18; eight readers (40 percent) earn $27 to $31 an hour.

* 14 readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $285; the lowest was $139.

* Seven readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $72,800; the lowest was $30,600.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 14

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 14

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 31

* 76 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 63 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, rural hygienist earning an hourly rate of $25 said, "My employer-provided health care still costs me $500 a month for me and my family."

A full-time hygienist earning a daily rate of $139 said, "I`d like to see more dentists in my local area pay hygienists what they`re worth and not the `going rate` for the area."

A full-time, suburban hygienist earning an hourly rate of $23.50 an hour said, "I`m going into my 16th year as a dental hygienist. My career and patients have been rewarding and fulfilling, although I am very dissatisfied with private practitioners who do not offer more benefits and retirement programs for hard-working hygienists."

An urban hygienist earning $24 an hour said, "In 28 years of full-time employment, only twice have I gotten raises that I haven`t had to beat out of my employer - demeaning."

Who responded: 51 readers; 41 work full-time; 28 work in suburbs; 27 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Washington

* 42 readers (76 percent) earn more than $35,000, and 32 readers (58 percent) earn more than $50,000.

* 38 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $47; the lowest was $25; 29 readers (76 percent) earn $32 to $39 an hour.

* Four readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $342; the lowest was $240.

* Five readers are paid according to a fixed annual salary. The highest salary reported was $71,000; the lowest was $48,000.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 17

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 20

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 30

* 93 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time hygienist earning the hourly rate of $33.50 said, "Most hygienists in the Seattle area do get benefits, even if part-time. I feel very blessed with my salary/benefit package."

An urban hygienist reporting an annual income of $88,000 said, "I work for a managed-care company and am the most content I have ever been with my practice and compensation."

Another urban hygienist said, "Salaries for hygienists have reached a peak for the economics of dentistry. Treat it as a career, not a job. Be part of the team!"

A full-time hygienist reporting an annual income of $60,000 said, "The push toward having dental assistants do `simple cleanings` is a little troubling. I do feel that I`m paid well for what I do, but it could all change if my job duties were taken over by someone less well-educated and at a lower cost. I feel that my job commands such a high salary because there is a shortage of hygienists, not because I`m a valued member of the dental team."

Who responded: 55 readers; 35 work full-time; 28 work in suburbs and 18 work in urban settings; 30 have been licensed for more than 15 years.

West Virginia

* Four readers (29 percent) earn more than $35,000. Four other readers earn between $10,000 and $22,000.

* 11 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $23; the lowest was $13.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $24,240.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 36

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 43

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 21

* 57 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 64 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A full-time, suburban hygienist wrote, "Hygiene is a great field right out of college. You can start out earning a high hourly rate, but you peak out in a few years while other careers keep increasing their incomes."

A part-time, rural hygienist earning an hourly rate of $15 said, "I feel that dental hygienists are extremely underpaid in West Virginia."

Who responded: 14 readers; nine work full-time; six work in rural settings, four work in suburbs, and four work in urban settings; nine have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Wisconsin

* 37 readers (44 percent) earn more than $35,000; 23 readers (27 percent) earn between $30,000 and $35,000.

* 71 readers are paid according to an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate reported was $28; the lowest was $10; 34 readers (48 percent) earn $21 to $23 an hour.

* Four readers are paid according to a daily rate. The highest daily rate reported was $185; the lowest was $140.

* One reader is paid a fixed annual salary of $47,500.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 15

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 16

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 50

* 79 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 68 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

A part-time, suburban hygienist earning $24 an hour wrote, "I truly enjoy my job, and I hope and pray preceptorship does not become accepted nationwide. That is my greatest fear."

A full-time, suburban hygienist said, "I don`t like being told that I`ve reached a `ceiling` with my salary and can`t expect more. I`ve worked 25 years and expect to work 20 more as a hygienist. What`s my incentive?"

A hygienist who moved from a western state said, "My current salary and benefit package is comparable for this area, but because it is so much lower than my previous position, I am very frustrated and feel that I have gone backwards. I have always enjoyed the field, but for the first time I seem unhappy and unsure of my future if I stay in this state. My loss of income from last year will be more than $20,000. Both positions were 34 hours a week."

A part-time hygienist working for an hourly rate of $25 said, "I have always earned more than the average mill worker who, in our area, are the highest paid employee. I am tired of the whining and bitching I hear from some of the gals coming up. Where else can two years of technical training gain you the autonomy, the flexibility, and the respect that hygiene offers?"

Who responded: 84 readers; 51 work full-time; 33 work in suburbs and 28 work in urban settings; 53 have been licensed for less than 15 years.

Wyoming

* One of the two readers responding indicated an annual income between $40,000 and $50,000. The other one earned between $30,000 and $32,000.

* One reader is paid according to an hourly rate of $18.

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid vacation: 50

* Percentage of readers who do not receive any paid holidays: 50

* Percentage of readers not covered by any health insurance plan (including spouse`s plan): 100

* 50 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the income you earn as a dental hygienist."

* 0 percent indicated they were "generally satisfied with the employer benefits you receive as a dental hygienist."

Who responded: Two readers; both work full-time; both work in rural settings; both have been licensed for more than 15 years.

More in Personal Wellness