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2008 Salary Survey

Jan. 1, 2009
How does your income stack up?
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How does your income stack up?

Somewhere around the time dental hygienists were making voting choices early last November, they had the option of answering questions in RDH magazine's annual salary survey. The survey appeared on the magazine's Web site, as well as in RDH eVillage and a mass e-mail to dental hygienists.

When the dust settled, a new president-elect was getting ready to preside over California, a blue state where dental hygienists earn an average of $82,800 annually, and Alabama, a red state where dental hygienists earn less than half of that a year, averaging $36,060.
Click here to view survey results.

Just as the president-elect spent much of his transition to the White House pondering the economic crisis, hygienists clearly were aware of the economic impact on the dental offices where they practiced.

RDH asked, “How would you rate the financial health of the dental practice that employs you?”

Repeating the four answers here is relevant because of the statistics quoted in the tables appearing with the salary survey. The possible answers were:

  • “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.)

The 34% who said schedules are always full are what's reflected in the “business is good” in the state-by-state breakdown in the table. The second answer, which represented the majority, still offered the opinion that hygienists viewed business as being “good.” The downside was that they had noticed a slowdown that likely varies very much from state to state.

The date when respondents answered the survey was also relevant. The survey, which was entirely conducted online, appeared first at It appeared again in the electronic newsletter, RDH eVillage. Finally, a mass e-mail was sent out to RDH readers. More than 500 responded in August when we were addressing the first trickles of a slowing economy, mainly outrageous gas prices. Almost 400 answered in September, and approximately 1,600 participated in the survey during October when the economic panic started in earnest.

A total of 199 respondents hailed from California, where the results computed into an average of $49 a hour. The 15 from Alabama indicated that they average $19.42 in a state still known for its “preceptorship” influence.

What about the 2,403 respondents from the other 48 states?

Generally speaking, if they are working full time, they are earning $55,000 to $70,000 a year. The average hourly rate in 35 of the 47 states (South Dakota did not offer enough responses for an statistical opinion) was in the $30 to $39 range.

These people don't earn what I do?

So who were they, the dental hygienists who dominated the statistics reflected in the tables?

  • 64% practice in metropolitan areas (including suburbs).
  • 87% practice dental hygiene in the general dentistry setting.
  • 42% have been licensed for 20 years or more. The other age groups were one to five years (20%); six to 10 years (14%); and 10 to 20 years (24%).
  • 52% practice full-time.

Fifty-two percent surfaces another two times for this demographic group who completed the survey. Fifty-two percent received a raise “within the last 12 months.” Fifty-two percent also said they did not think employers dole out raises at “fair intervals.”

The online questionnaire did not have an open-ended field where dental hygienists could comment on perceptions of compensation in dentistry. But a few posted comments in other fields.

A public health hygienist in Oregon wrote, “I would like to explain that the benefit of working for public health is the amount of untaxed benefits and usually an annual raise. And I really appreciate not having to go to an employer and beg for a raise anymore!”

An Illinois hygienist on “straight salary, 10 paid holidays, 10 sick days, and 10 vacation days” in the public health setting wrote, “Hourly rate is low considering the hard work we put in. We see all ages of patients — kids to full on perio. I do not feel we are compensated fairly. We sometimes see 14 to 15 patients in an eight-hour day.”

A rural Pennsylvania hygienist said, “Annual increases are based on increase in production. Always have to ask, though … never just offered.”

A part-time South Carolina hygienist lamented a recent bump in the hourly rate to $26.50 an hour. “When will the dentists realize our true worth to the practice? Come on, South Carolina, catch up! Ugh!”

A metropolitan Ohio hygienist attempted to explain a complex pay system: “$28 an hour base converts to 33% production, including exams each quarter. No pay for any patients who are treated free of charge Per the dentist: ‘If I don't get paid, dental hygienists don't get paid.' The 33% includes vacation and holidays. Recently downsized. Went from two full-time hygienists. One left, causing my production/income to increase. Then released five months later and replaced with a part-timer with no commission structure and no benefits. Currently, in my humble opinion, dentistry sucks.”

Still, opportunities exist that leave dental hygienists excited about being compensated fairly.

A rural hygienist in Arizona who expected to earn $57,000 in 2008 said, “Everyone in the practice gets a bonus if we meet production for a three month period.”

A California hygienist projecting a 2008 income of $108,000 explained, “$50 an hour plus overtime at time-and-a-half. Plus medical reimbursement at $300 a month. Plus $10 a quad scaling/root planings. Plus two weeks paid vacation and six holidays.”

An Ohio hygienist earning $31 an hour said, “My production goal monthly is $13,392. After this is met, I receive 25% commision on any production over $13,392. I usually produce anywhere from $16,000 to $21,000 a month. Bonus system is awesome.”

Details on commissions/bonus plans

Editor's Note: Since specialized compensation plans vary from office to office, the RDH survey allowed readers to provide additional details. Here is a sampling of what readers wrote:
Arkansas: $250 per day base or 40% per two-week period, whichever is greater.
Arizona: $36 an hour, plus up to $5 per hour based on production.
California: A 30% commision for everything over $1,300 daily production.
California: $410 daily rate plus $40 if production is over $1,200, and $80 if production is over $1,500.
California: We earn a base daily salary and a bonus for every $50 over $850 of production per day. It works out to about 39%.
Colorado: $38 an hour plus 10% of production above $7,500.
Colorado: Starting in July, I started a bonus program where I get 20% of anything over my daily goal.
Florida: Commission on production over $600 per day.
Florida: 30% of the determined goal per trimester is diveded among employees. It averages to about $500.

Georgia: 33% plus a small monthly bonus around $150.
Georgia: I have to produce $16,000 for the month, and I get 10% for anything over that.
Illinois: Office bonus plan. Everyone gets the same bonus after we reach our goal.
Illinois: $35 an hour, plus quarterly bonus of 31% of my collection minus my salary that has already been paid.
Illinois: In addition to my regular salary, I receive 25% of anything I produce after $13,000 per month.
Kansas: 10% of any production over $1,125; 1% on any completed treatment on doctor's side that was co-diagnosed with doctor from my chair.
Louisiana: We have a total office production bonus that we get monthly. This bonus raises my daily pay to about $275 a day.

Massachusetts: I earn 38.8% of procedures I do, including doctor's exam in my room, fluorides, sealants, prohys, X-rays, scaling/root planing, etc.
Massachusetts: 28% of hygiene production and 2% of restorative/ortho production.
Michigan: I have a bonus plan tied to percentage of my patients keeping their hygiene appointment.
Minnesota: We earn 33% of anything billed out over $102 per hour; we all work at an hourly rate that is the same and have not gotten a standard of living raise since 2004.
North Carolina: 20% of collections, plus $31 an hour.
North Carolina: Hourly at $28; commission is 33% … I'm paid whichever is higher for the pay period.
Nebraska: $32 an hour plus half production minus my overhead.
New Hampshire: I own a laser and get 15% of laser fees; doctor insures the laser at no added cost to him as I rent it to him, and he pays for the fiber replacement and tips.
Ohio: Profit sharing at year's end. No way to verify what doctor's wife says. It's about 5% of my salary but can stop anytime.
Ohio: At my previous job, 33% of production in my chair, including exams; also paid for X-rays taken in doctor's ops. No longer there since the doc was hurting financially and opted to keep the cheaper hourly RDH.

Pennsylvania: I work on an hourly wage plus commission system. It is based on collections, not production. I have a target number to reach in hourly collections. Whatever is over that amount, I receive 30.475% of, paid on a monthly basis.
South Carolina: Production bonus and grab bags for daily goals in addition to my hourly rate.
Tennessee: 100% of my pay is commission, and we receive 40% commission on what we produce; pay increases when fees increase.
Texas: Bonus based on production average of $750 per day.
Texas: 25% commission with 15% profit sharing among all employees when we produce over $50,000.
Texas: 45% of my production — nothing else. I like it that way.
Virginia: $25 an hour and 20% commission after daily goal, which is $600.
Virginia: $35 per hour plus $25 for making daily goal of $1,200 and $10 for every $100 over goal.
Wisconsin: I have a base salary of $29.25 an hour but get a bonus check each month for production based at 35%.
Wisconsin: Quarterly bonuses average $3,200 yearly.
West Virginia: We do have a bonus system in place based on collections. This applies to all employees.
West Virginia: I am on salary and have a production quota for the quarter. I then receive 25% of anything over my production quota per quarter.