Ask Kara RDH: Asking for a Raise

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I work for one doctor at 2 of his offices. They are each in 2 completely different areas and therefore have two different average salary rates for the areas. I get paid $43 at one office which is okay for the area, but then I get paid the same amount for the other office when the average salary is $53 in that area. I just graduated, and this is my first job, so I was just grateful that they wanted to hire me in the first place. However, I made a mistake by accepting the salary. My 90 days is coming up, and I wanted to ask for a raise on just the one day that I work at that other office. I was wondering if you guys thought it was appropriate to do and how I should go about it and what I should say? Also, do dentists usually “haggle” when talking about raises? Should I hold my ground or compromise because I’m a new hygienist?

It’s such a struggle being a new hygienist (or seasoned, for that matter), needing a job, so accepting less than you should. Just because you are a “newer hygienist” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get paid what you are worth. You are a trained professional and deserve to be paid as such.

After 90 days of working and being paid $10 below average, I think asking for a raise is appropriate. I would run a report on your production numbers and have it ready when speaking to your boss. The industry standard is that your wage should be about 35% of your production. To be very clear, 35% of production, not collection. I would also list out what you have done for the office; how you are a team player and your accomplishments thus far, showing other reasons you deserve a raise beyond just numbers. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect to get a $10 raise at once. If a dentist is going to pay so low in the first place, I don’t see them all of a sudden becoming generous, being a savvy business owner trying to keep good employees on staff, or caring about employee morale being high. However, I really hope your situation will be different! And whether a dentist is a big negotiator really depends on their personality; some are, some aren’t. Be prepared either way.

I would also suggest bringing up to your boss that you would like reviews every six months or every year going forward where you can discuss pay raises based on continued performance. It’s playing the long game, but this may give you a chance at getting your wage where it should be.

Overall, some dentists hire new hygienists because they might see it as easier to take advantage and pay below average. It’s sad, but it’s true. If your boss doesn’t budge on pay rate, personally, I would consider moving on. No one should be taken advantage of especially when you are making them money. $10 below average is being taken advantage of in my opinion. I’ve been there, so I can say that out of personal experience!

I wish you the best of luck! Stick to your guns; you should be paid an average wage or very near, even being new. It may take time getting your wage to average, but if it really is a good office to work at, it may be worth the wait. If not, consider other options.

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Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP
Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP, is a co-founder and the chief content officer of Today’s RDH, an independent educational publishing company for dental hygienists, encompassing articles, a podcast, virtual continuing education events, and self-study continuing education. Today’s RDH was launched in 2018 after Kara built her social media presence with her largest following on her Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, which was created in 2013. An Oregon Institute of Technology graduate, Kara has a deep passion for spreading knowledge about the importance of oral health and its association with systemic health. Kara’s passion extends to helping other hygienists understand current protocols and evidence-based research – all with the goal of lifting dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession. Kara was recognized in 2020 as one of the Top 100 Women in Media for her entrepreneurship as a co-founder of Today’s RDH. In 2022, she was recognized by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association for their Standout Seven Award in the Entrepreneur category. Kara lives in Vancouver, Washington, just outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Ben, and their four Chihuahuas. When she’s not working, Kara loves riding the Oregon Dunes on her quad, spoiling her Chihuahuas, and spending time with her close-knit family.