by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
Recently, the American Dental Hygienists' Association published the Executive Summary of the 2009 Dental Hygiene Job Market and Employment Survey on their Web site.1 The results of the survey suggest that there are dental hygienists who are having trouble finding employment in some localities. These dental hygienists cite the main reason they are having difficulty is because of the overall lack of jobs for dental hygienists. They feel the job market stress is caused by too many dental hygienists living in the area, as well as the presence of too many dental hygiene schools in their area that produce too many dental hygienists. This document interested me, because I had heard that this trend may be occurring.
In the annual RDH eVillage salary survey, a question was asked about the economy's effect on dental hygiene. Specifically, the following questions were posed and dental hygienists responded as follows:
- "Business is good and schedules are always full." (Nationally, 34% chose this answer.)
- "Business is good, but it has slowed down somewhat." (The majority of RDH readers, 50%, chose this answer.)
- "You can tell that the practice owners are very concerned about revenues." (14% chose this answer.)
- "The practice's financial health is weak, but the doctor is unconcerned about it." (Only 2% chose this answer.)2
Perusing the Internet, I found many dental hygienists who corroborate the information from the ADHA employment survey and the RDH eVillage salary survey regarding the state of employment. This information, of course, is anecdotal, and may not be generalizable.
Another government entity that has a role in describing dental hygiene employment is the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They publish data on dental hygiene employment and wages and forecast the need and demand for dental hygienists. At present, the BLS states that there are 173,090 dental hygienists employed, primarily in dentists' offices.3
Interestingly, the BLS forecasted that the employment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 30 percent through 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations, which is in response to increasing demand for dental care and the greater use of hygienists.4
The BLS further projects that the demand for dental services will grow because of population growth, older people increasingly retaining more teeth, and a growing focus on preventive dental care. To meet this demand, facilities that provide dental care, particularly dentists' offices, will increasingly employ dental hygienists.
The BLS projects that job prospects are expected to remain excellent. They continue to explain that older dentists, who may have been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or more hygienists.4
This information offers a glimpse into the employment of dental hygienists at present and in the future. Dental hygiene employment is a major part of dental care delivery in the United States. So, information on the employment of dental hygienists is important when looking at public health solutions to providing all segments of society with quality, preventive dental care.
Editor's Note: The author of the column refers to a salary survey conducted by RDH eVillage. The survey used to be managed annually by RDH magazine. RDH eVillage, since it is an electronic newsletter, processes survey data much quicker than the magazine. If you are not a subscriber to RDH eVillage, and you are interested in viewing the articles mentioned in this column, we suggest visiting DentistryIQ.com and searching for "salary survey."
About the Author
Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health" (www.prenhall.com/nathe), which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272–8147.