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Dental Hygienist Vs. Registered Nurse

The work that dental hygienists and registered nurses do is superficially similar but these healthcare professionals work in different environments and focus on different healthcare issues. Read on to compare these occupations further.

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Comparing Dental Hygienists to Registered Nurses

Dental hygienists and registered nurses are healthcare professionals who provide some specific health-related services to patients under the supervision of a dentist or doctor. Dental hygienists focus on providing oral care while registered nurses may assist with the treatment of patients with a wide range of illnesses or injuries.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Dental Hygienists Associate's degree $72,910 20%
Registered Nurses Associate's degree $68,450 15%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

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Responsibilities of Dental Hygienists vs. Registered Nurses

Dental hygienists and registered nurses are both involved with providing some medical care to patients. Dental hygienists may assess the health of a patient's teeth and gums and alert the dentist if they have concerns. They also perform medical tests, such as X-raying a patient's teeth, and they clean and treat patients' teeth. Registered nurses may also assist with medical tests and give patients medication. Dental hygienists and registered nurses are responsible for ensuring they document their work and findings on each patient's chart. They also help educate patients on how to prevent or care for specific health issues.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists are responsible for providing patients with dental care. Almost all dental hygienists work in dental offices. They work under the supervision of dentists and the specific duties they can perform depend on which state the dental hygienists work in. While some states allow dental hygienists to diagnose some dental conditions without the supervision of a dentist other states restrict dental hygienists from diagnosing patients. To prepare for this career, aspiring dental hygienists will typically study dental hygiene and earn an associate's degree in this field; they must also be licensed.

Job responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Cleaning patients' teeth
  • Taking X-rays
  • Educating patients about dental care
  • Recording their treatments and findings
  • Informing dentists of any oral health problems

Registered Nurses

There are several educational paths that can lead to a career as a registered nurse. Those interested in this field can opt to complete a nursing diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree; as of 2016, O*NET OnLine reported that 66% of registered nurses had an associate's degree. Registered nurses also need to be licensed to work in their field. The BLS indicated that as of 2016, 61% of registered nurses worked in hospitals. Most nurses work shift work and will be required to work evenings, overnight shifts and weekends. They provide medical care to patients, monitor patients and make doctors aware of any concerns.

Job responsibilities of a registered nurse include:

  • Checking on patients
  • Updating patient files
  • Ensuring patient needs are met
  • Giving patients medication
  • Educating patients about their diagnosis
  • Assisting with medical tests

Related Careers

There are a number of medical careers that may appeal to those considering becoming a dental hygienist or a registered nurse, including becoming a dental assistant or a registered respiratory therapist. These careers are discussed in the material linked to below.

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