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Which Career Is Better: Dental Hygienist vs. Registered Nurse

Dental Hygienist vs. Registered Nurse

There are many similarities and differences between dental hygiene and nursing. Both lead to fantastic careers in the healthcare sector, but which one is right for you? In this article, we are going to discuss the similarities and differences to help you decide what's right for you. 

What Do Dental Hygienists and Registered Nurses Do?

Both work with patients as part of a medical team. Both are highly satisfying and very hands-on positions. Here are some of the key differences.

  • Dental hygiene: As a dental hygienist, you work on one patient at a time. Hours are straightforward: most dental offices are only open during the day, and few offices have weekend hours. Dental hygiene can be considered repetitive, systematic work—some people love that, and others don't.
  • Registered nursing: Not only are you caring for a patient, but you may have to provide emotional support the entire family, as well. So, as rewarding as nursing is, it can take an emotional toll on a person. Days are never really the same; different cases come through the door on a regular basis. 

Who Makes More Money: Hygienists Or Nurses?

Dental Hygiene and Nursing offer comparable pay. Both will vary based on location, industry, and your experience.

Dental hygienist: In 2023, dental hygienists had an average pay of $89,890, with the top 10% earning $118,400 or more (bls.gov). According to BLS, top paying industries for dental hygienists include Employment Services ($95,650), Outpatient Care Centers ($90,310), and Offices of Dentists ($90,160). The states that have the highest dental hygienist average salaries are Washington ($123,510), California ($118,330), and Alaska ($115,980).

Registered nurse: In 2023, registered nurses had an average pay of $94,480, with the top 10% earning $132,680 or more (bls.gov). According to BLS, top paying industries are in Federal, State, and Local Government ($114,860), Employment Services ($110,230), and Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing ($108,640). The states that have the highest registered nurse salaries are California ($137,690), Hawaii ($119,710), and Oregon ($113,440).

How Long Is Schooling: RN Programs Vs. Hygienist Programs?

Education for both dental hygienists and registered nurses is similar in length. Both degrees can be earned in either a two- or four-year program. Both careers require more advanced degrees to step into a research or teaching position.

Dental hygienist: Associate degrees take up to three years, and bachelor’s degrees take four. For both types of programs, you’ll have classroom, lab, and clinical (hands-on training). Licensing is required, and all states have different specifications. Contact your state’s board of dental examiners to find out what is required of you.

Registered nurse: Associate and certificate programs for registered nursing can take two to three years to finish. Bachelor’s degrees take four years. Some hospitals and medical facilities offer diploma programs, but they aren’t as common as certifications and degrees. With an associate degree, you may find an entry-level position. But, if you want to work in a hospital, most require their RNs to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

 You’ll have a lot of studying to do regardless of which career you choose to go to school for.

Which Has More Available Jobs: RNs Or Hygienists?

  • Dental hygienist: Dental hygiene is predicted to experience strong employment growth through 2032, with close to 16,300 new jobs becoming available. The highest concentration of jobs will be found in dentist offices, followed by employment services, and doctor offices. 
  • Registered nurse: Registered nursing is predicted to experience good employment growth through 2032, with approximately 177,400 new jobs becoming available. Industries with the most opportunities for RNs are general and medical hospitals, physician offices, and home health care services. 

Dental hygiene and registered nursing are both excellent career choices. You just need to decide which part of the medical field you prefer, and what kinds of responsibilities you’re able to handle, in order to make the best decision for yourself.

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