Is the market for dental hygienists over-saturated? I’ve been asked that question from potential dental hygiene students many times over the last 7 years or so on social media and here’s my answer. It’s the wrong question. Dentistry, and healthcare in general, is a relatively stable part of the economy. Ample opportunities for dental hygienists have, do and will continue to exist for a long time. Yes, some areas of the country offer more opportunities than others and yes, some years (e.g. recessions) are better than others. But generally speaking, the employment outlook for dental hygienists is pretty good. If you complete dental hygiene school and embrace the profession you will eventually find employment. Okay Mark, so if that is the wrong question, then what is the right question?
These are some of the more relevant questions potential hygiene school candidates should be answering. Do you even find dentistry interesting (be honest)? Can you work with people from all walks of life who generally don’t want to see you (people generally don’t find the dental experience to be pleasurable)? Are you comfortable with promoting dental treatment that you don’t fully support? Does the site of blood bother you? Does severe halitosis make you want to vomit? Are you comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations with patients? Are you okay with physical intimacy with patients (hands in mouth)? Are you really just attracted to the hourly pay (be honest)? Can you picture yourself doing this everyday for maybe 30-40 years? Do you like working in small teams where someone else, the dentist, is the primary leader? Does ergonomic injury scare you? Can you maintain your professionalism when patients say things like, “no offense, but I hate you guys”? Again, can you maintain your professionalism when patients say dumb shit like, “fluoride is poison”? Are you comfortable with patients completely ignoring your advice even though they really like you? Can you handle providing dental treatment under pressure (e.g. time constraint)? Do you have the personality to handle patients who are chronically angry pricks (you will have your share)? Are you okay with a profession that has very little promotion opportunities in the clinical setting? Can you mentally handle the duality of a work environment that promotes oral health while simultaneously providing a daily buffet of candy and donuts in the break room? Do you like sweating your ass off because the front desk keeps touching the god damn thermostat?! I could go on, but that should be enough to think about.
I don’t ask these questions to dissuade you. I just want you to be real with yourself. We already have our share of dental hygienists who suck and we really don’t need anymore. If you are still reading this and haven’t been dissuaded at this point then dental hygiene might be the profession for you. If so, I say go for it and welcome to the family. Don’t worry about market saturation. If you have any questions please comment below.
Mark Frias, RDH