The 10 worst states for dental hygienists


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The United States of America covers 3.8 million square miles, and dental hygienists are responsible for caring and educating all 323 million people within those boundaries. Some places are of course better locations than others for those hygienists to work. Some pay more while others have a better professional community. Some are safer, and some really need the skills of qualified dental hygienists.

Here, we present the 10 worst states for dental hygienists, but that’s not necessarily a pejorative. In a lot of cases, it just means that those skills – and that care – are especially in demand.

One can look at this list and say, “I’m glad that I don’t work there!” But others may look at the numbers and say, “They need me and I’m glad that I’m there.”

We compiled data from personal finance website WalletHub (giving us dental health rankings); U.S. News and World Report (who contracted researchers McKinsey & Company to evaluate the states for such metrics as healthcare, finance and crime rates); and the government’s Occupational Employment and Statistics program (to find out employment data specific to hygienists).

We ranked each of the 11 metrics for every state on a scale from one to 50. The best state got a one, while the worst got a 50. We then compiled those numbers: the best states got the lowest total, and the worst (again, here we are) got the highest numbers.

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It’s important to realize that not one single dataset should define a state as the best or worst. For instance, if we ranked them solely on highest wage, Alaska would be in the top of the pack, yet other factors placed it squarely on this list. There are other considerations impacting quality of life, including crime, stress levels and education.

The metrics that we used are:

  • Employment (the number of hygienists in the state)

  • Mean annual wage

  • Location quotient (which is a way of quantifying how concentrated a particular occupation in a region is as compared to the nation)

  • Healthcare

  • Education

  • Crime

  • Affordability

  • Stress

  • Dental habits

  • Insurance coverage

  • Oral health

And with that, here is our ranking for the worst states for dental hygienists.

Click through the slides to check them out.


10. Tennessee

As the list starts, things aren’t too bleak. Tennesseans enjoy a slightly above average employment level (4,000), the cost of living isn’t so bad, and location quotient shows that there’s a good representation of dental hygienists as compared to the rest of the country. However, things do get a little rougher. It’s the sixth worst state for crime. It also has a fairly high level of stress. And the state’s dental habits in oral health are well below average. Hygienists in Tennessee also get paid well below the national average ($65,390).


9. New Mexico

At first blush – and in at least one metric – New Mexican dental hygienists seem to be doing pretty well. Their mean annual wage is the third best in the nation ($91,080 per year). However, the state’s ranking in other areas drag it down. Professionally speaking, residents of the state need help with their dental habits and their oral health; they’re in the 33rd and 32nd second spots in the country, respectively. The cost of living for the state is slightly below average, but what really hurts New Mexico is the state’s education level (they came in at number 48) and its crime level (only Louisiana was worse).


8. West Virginia

Dental hygienists in West Virginia face a number of challenges. First, there aren’t very many of them – only 1,020 – and the numbers seem to indicate that West Virginians need more care from skilled and knowledgeable dental hygienists. The state came in last in terms of overall oral health, and their dental habits came in at number 47. This is somewhat surprising because the state came in 10th place for both insurance coverage and cost of living. That means that paying for dental care shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a lot of that money trickles down to West Virginian dental hygienists, as they ranked 49 in overall salary, earning just $54,060 per year.


7. Nevada

Dental hygienists in Nevada also enjoy some of the best wages in the country; on average, they earn $86,550 per year. However, Nevadans’ health care, in general, is well below the national average, and their dental habits and oral health also seem to suffer. Some of that can be attributed to the low insurance rates of the state. What really seems to drag Nevada down on this list are the state’s stress level (44th), crime level (46th) and poor education level (49th).


6. Arkansas

Arkansans could use more of the education and care provided by skilled dental hygienists. As a whole, the state ranked number 49 for dental habits and 50 for oral health. This extended into overall health care, also giving them last place in that ranking. While the state’s insurance coverage isn’t fantastic, it’s at least on par with the national average. The state’s dental hygienists do suffer from a somewhat low annual salary ($65,450) and there are only 1,430 in the state.



5. South Carolina

South Carolinians have their own burdens to deal with. To start, the state ranked 44th in annual salary; hygienists earned an average of $59,720 per year. While the cost of living was right around the national average, overall healthcare was well below average. Oral health and dental habits were also very low. Further adding to the state’s poor ranking is that it ranked last in education.


4. Mississippi

Like West Virginia, Mississippians would really benefit from the skill and care of qualified dental hygienists. The state ranked 49th in oral health and 50th in dental habits. Unfortunately, one of the barriers to getting that care may be that dental hygienists make toward the bottom in the rankings in terms of salary - just $57,960 per year. Another challenge to the state’s healthcare numbers is the amount of insurance coverage. Coming in at number 45, many Mississippians simply don’t have healthcare coverage.


3. Alaska

Alaska is an interesting study on how the rankings really depend on several different metrics to tell the story. First, the good news: Alaskan dental hygienists make more than anyone else in the country ($102,890). However, this state also has the fewest dental hygienists (480). There are several mitigating factors that help pull Alaska’s score to the bottom. First, the state has a very high cost of living and the crime level is the fourth worst in the country. Dental habits and oral health scored 38 and 46, respectively. In addition to a lack of dental hygienists in the state, Alaskans also have the second lowest rate of insurance coverage, posing a significant barrier to getting the care that they need.


2. Louisiana

Living conditions in Louisiana are largely to blame for its low score. Louisianans had the worst crime level in the country and they have the second worst stress levels. While the state had an above average cost of living, dental hygienists had the third lowest annual salary ($55,110). Overall healthcare ranked number 45, as did dental habits. Oral health care was slightly better, coming in at 43.


1. Alabama

While no single metric defined this list, it’s interesting that dental hygienists in Alabama made less than everyone else in the country ($44,760). A combination of professional and societal ranking worked together to give Alabama its place on the list. Healthcare came in at number 47, while dental habits earned them a ranking of 48, and oral health came in at 44. There is a little bit of good news, however. Alabamans enjoyed an above average cost of living, but the state’s stress and crime levels still affected its overall ranking.

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