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Dental Hygienist Vs. Physician Assistant

Jan 02, 2019

Dental hygienists and physician assistants are healthcare professionals that provide direct care to patients. They share some common basic tasks but perform very distinct healthcare roles. Read on to compare these careers in greater detail.

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Comparing Dental Hygienists to Physician Assistants

Dental hygienists and physician assistants are both healthcare professionals who work under the authority of a more-qualified professional in their field. Dental hygienists focus specifically on oral and dental health treatments. Physician assistants can treat a wide range of medical issues, must have more postsecondary training, earn a higher annual income and, although the job growth for both of these professions is strong, physician assistants can expect a job growth rate of almost double what dental hygienists will see from 2016 to 2026.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Dental Hygienists Associate's degree $72,910 20%
Physician Assistants Master's degree $101,480 37%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Dental Hygienists vs. Physician Assistants

Dental hygienists and physicians assistants both see patients and they are both responsible for documenting their work. Dental hygienists must alert dentists to any potential health issues they've identified with their patients unless they work in a state where they are qualified to provide a diagnosis. Physician assistants can diagnose and treat many medical problems, although they may also be required to consult a physician in some cases. Some physician assistants also assist surgeons with surgical procedures. Dental hygienists provide direct preventative and routine care to patients by performing tasks such as sealing or cleaning their teeth and examining the patient's teeth and mouth.

Dental Hygienists

Almost all dental hygienists work in dentists' offices. Some may work part time and evenings, and weekend work may be required depending on the hours of the office they work in. Individuals study dental hygiene to prepare for this career and they must have an associate's degree and license to enter this field. In some states dental hygienists are qualified to diagnose patients while other states require dental hygienists to refer the patient to a dentist for a formal diagnosis. They provide oral care to patients and perform some medical tests in order to ensure patients are properly diagnosed and treated.

Job responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Using tools to clean patients' teeth
  • Taking X-rays
  • Examining each patients' gums and mouth
  • Informing dentists of the patient's condition
  • Updating patient charts
  • Teaching patients how to care for their teeth and gums

Physician Assistants

In order to be a physician assistant it's necessary to earn a master's degree in this field of study and be licensed. Physician assistants work under the authority of physicians and are typically employed in doctors' offices and hospitals. They may work any time of the day or night and be required to work on weekends and holidays. Their duties are very similar to the duties of a medical doctor. They provide direct care to patients who are ill or injured. They have to follow established legal guidelines to determine if and when they need to consult with a doctor when treating a patient.

Job responsibilities of a physician assistant include:

  • Updating medical charts
  • Referring patients for tests
  • Examining and diagnosing patients
  • Administering immunizations
  • Stitching incisions
  • Prescribing medication

Related Careers

The links below connect to information about careers that are comparable to the ones explored in this article. Dental hygienists may be interested in working as licensed practical nurses and providing medical care to patients under the direction of a physician, while physician assistants may also be interested in being a nurse practitioner since nurse practitioners perform many of the same duties and are also qualified to diagnose patients.

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