Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Occupational Outlook Handbook, which, at last count, provided guidance on more than 580 different job types in the U.S., and one job stood out above the rest when it came to providing the best return on investment.
In this occupation, the average worker made more than $70,000, it's expected to add 33% more jobs over the next 10 years, which is three times more than the estimated 11% job growth in the U.S., and perhaps best of all, the entry level educational requirement is an associate's degree. Sound too good to be true? It isn't. And that job is a dental hygienist.
The demands of the job
Dental hygienists work in dentist offices cleaning the teeth of patients while also examining for diseases like gingivitis and educating patients on the proper ways to maintain good oral health between visits to the dentist. The demands can move beyond cleaning the patient's teeth to taking dental x-rays, applying sealants and fluoride required to protect teeth, and also the more cosmetic polishing and whitening of teeth. In addition, in 2012, more than half of the dental hygienists worked part time.
In order to become a registered dental hygienist (RDH), one must first get a degree in dental hygiene from an accredited program, with an associate's degree being the most common. With the degree in hand, individuals are then required to become licensed based on the requirements of the state in which they will practice.
Yet beyond the educational requirements, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes some of the important qualities of dental hygienists include compassion as a result of some of the immense fears some people bring into the dental office, interpersonal skills as a result of the close contact with patients, dentists, and dental assistants, a detail oriented focus as a result of the routine procedures, as well as physical stamina and dexterity.
As of the most recent information, dental hygienists had an average annual wage of $70,210 in 2012, more than double that of the $34,750 average wage of all occupations in the United States, and significantly higher than the broader category the jobs rolls into of health technologists and technicians, where the pay was $40,380. In addition, the top 10 percent of hygienists earned almost six figures, tipping the scales at $96,280.
Not only is the pay great, but so too are the expected job openings. As a result of greater focus on dental health, an aging population, and Federal health legislation will expand individuals with dental insurance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects more than 114,000 jobs will be added from 2012 to 2022, and 64,000 of those will be new jobs and not simply filling existing jobs of people retiring or leaving the workforce.
Being a dental hygienist may not be for everyone, but there is no denying it is a great career with relatively low barriers to entry that provides great pay, and also a great service to millions of Americans.