Wages are up for debate with the current shortage of registered dental hygienists (RDH) in Colorado. Historically, wages are difficult to talk about for all parties and negotiating can cease to exist with completely different expectations. A few weeks ago, we created a survey to determine the average wages in Colorado (specifically Denver) as well as desired wages. We asked both dental offices (dentists and office managers) and dental hygienist to fill out the survey. We hope our findings can be useful to both dental hygienists and offices alike.

We received 97 responses from dental hygienists (60 in the Denver-metro area) and 27 responses from dental offices (25 in the Denver-Metro area).

The following information is for the Denver-Metro area only.

What do you believe dental hygienists make per hour?

When asked what do dental hygienists make per hour both dental offices and dental hygienists believe the average wage is around $41.50. Several responses included ranges to account for new graduates and veteran hygienists. On average 32% of both dental offices and hygienists believed the average wage for a hygienist was more than $41.50 per hour.

What do you make as a dental hygienist and what do you pay your dental hygienist?

Dental offices reported paying their RDHs $41.00 per hour, and 23 of 25 offices reported providing benefits. The two offices that were not providing benefits, reported that they paid their hygienists $40.00 and $42.00 per hour. The lowest paid hygienist was $37.00 per hour and the highest was $46.00 per hour.

RDH’s reported making $42.50 per hour, and 9 of the 50 dental hygienists reported that they do not receive any benefits and the average wage for hygienists who were not receiving benefits was $43.30 per hour.  The lowest paid hygienist was at $37.00 and the highest was at $57.00 per hour, both with benefits.

What should a dental hygienist make per hour?

This is one of the areas where dental offices and dental hygienists are not on the same page. Most dental offices believe a dental hygienist should be making $42.00 per hour while RDHs believe they should be making $45.51 per hour. 20% of dental offices agreed with hygienists and believe they should be making more than $45.00 per hour while only 8% of hygienists believe they should be making $42.00 or less per hour.

“RDH’s believe they should be making $45.50…”

What should independent contractors charge?

When asked what an RDH working as an independent contractor should charge, dental offices responded with an average of $43.50, while RDH’s believed $48.50 per hour. However, most RDH’s were only charging $44.50 when they were working as an independent contractor. In fact, every single RDH that worked as an independent contractor charged less than they thought they should.

Our survey was created to get a snapshot of wages and desired wages in Colorado. While the rising cost of living in Colorado has put a significant burden on everyone, several dental offices expressed concerns with lower insurance reimbursements, overhead costs, downtime productivity of staff members, and the inability to compete with corporate offices for prices and equipment.

One of the most common concerns heard from RDH’s is about benefits; however, our survey concludes that 86% of hygienists are receiving benefits. Perhaps it’s not the lack of benefits, but the desire for those benefits to be different? When asked about benefits, the most common themes included; wanting a 401k, money for continued education, and additional paid time off. With the recent increase in RDH’s working as independent contractors, one cannot help but wonder if it is in response to the desire to have more PTO or options to have more time off.

Being a registered dental hygienist is a demanding job. And owning a dental practice is also a demanding job. Both have a responsibility to the patient’s health and the success of a practice. As an RDH, are you contributing to the success of your dental practice? And as a dental office, do you have the foundation to integrate your dental hygienist into your dental team?

Stay tuned for how RDH’s and dental offices can collaborate.