Dental Hygienist Vs. Dental Assistant

Dental hygienists and dental assistants both work to ensure that patients get top-notch oral care. Hygienists are hands-on with patients, conducting cleanings and x-rays, while assistants perform a variety of tasks to make sure that a dentist's office is set up for success.

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Comparing Dental Hygienists to Dental Assistants

Dental hygienists and dental assistants both must be able to work well with patients in a dentist's office. While hygienists clean teeth and educate patients on oral care, assistants' work aims at helping the office run smoothly in a variety of ways, from making appointments to sterilizing equipment. Other similarities and differences are explored below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Dental Hygienist Associate's Degree $72,910 20%
Dental Assistant Postsecondary nondegree award $36,940 19%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Dental Hygienists vs. Dental Assistants

Hygienist and assistant are positions that have a great deal in common. Both work in medical settings where they ensure that patients have a successful and safe visit. Both also help dentists in their work, including prepping patients and assisting during procedures. The main difference in responsibility is where the focus of the daily work lies. Hygienists work more directly on patients' oral health, as they often are the ones responsible for cleanings and basic testing. Assistants spend a good deal of their time on clerical duties, such as scheduling and billing.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists provide much of the care for patients in the offices of dentists or orthodontists, particularly during cleanings. This includes taking x-rays, removing plaque, and administering fluoride. Hygienists must be able to clearly explain to their patients how to maintain proper oral health. The extent of the work done and how much needs to be supervised by a dentist varies by state. Dental hygienists must pass an associate's degree dental hygiene program and be licensed within the state where they are working.

Responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Assess dental health of patients and report findings to the dentist
  • Teach patients proper cleaning techniques
  • Know how to properly use dental tools, such as hand polishers and ultrasonic devices
  • Assist dentists or orthodontists during complex procedures

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants' main role is to ensure that the day-to-day operations of a dentist's office run smoothly. This will range from clerical work, such as scheduling and handling payments, to assisting the work of the dentist, including sterilizing and providing instruments during procedures. The scope of the work will vary depending on the state and dentist's office. Some states require that dental assistants graduate from yearlong programs, while others do not, and those assistants are trained on the job. Excellent communication skills and basic computer knowledge are important when working in this role.

Responsibilities of a dental assistant include:

  • Greet patients and make sure that they are comfortable
  • Keep up with records, billing, and general paperwork
  • Process lab work
  • Prep patients before procedures

Related Careers

If being a dental hygienist or assistant both sound interesting to you, there are other options to consider. If the hands-on oral care provided by hygienists is appealing, you may enjoy becoming a dentist. If the clerical work done by assistants is more your style, becoming a medical secretary may be the path for you.

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