Dental Therapist Vs. Dental Hygienist

May 30, 2020

Comparing Dental Therapists to Dental Hygienists

Though both may fall into the category of dental hygienists, these oral care professionals often have very different duties. Readers will learn about the differences in their responsibilities and training requirements, as well as the similarities in their salaries and career outlooks.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2018-2028)**
Dental Therapists Associate's Degree $34.35/hour 11% (Dental Hygienists)
Dental Hygienists Associate's Degree $34.35/hour 11%

Sources: *Payscale,**U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Dental Therapists vs. Dental Hygienists

The actual responsibilities and the amount of autonomy dental therapists and hygienists have from supervising dentists is regulated by each state. Dental hygienists often see patients before dentists do, and they establish the person's general health and gather information about any symptoms they are experiencing. Dental therapists carry many of the basic duties for cleaning a patient's teeth, but they also share many of the same tasks that were once exclusive to dentists. These often include more of the somewhat invasive procedures.

Dental Therapists

To prepare a patient for oral procedures, such as fillings or tooth extraction, dental therapists often place local anesthetics on the gums or dispense nitrous oxide for the patient to breathe. They may also be responsible for removing the infected or broken teeth themselves, as well as removing any stitches as the patient heals. Dental therapists in some states, rather than dentists, can provide emergency care for those with painful oral abscesses or cracked teeth by administering antibiotics and placing temporary crowns. Removing and adjusting spacers for those undergoing orthodontia treatment may also be the duty of these professionals. Additional training beyond the original degree is required.

Job responsibilities of a dental therapist include:

  • Inserting temporary caps to protect pulp
  • Cleaning the area around a cavity to prepare it for filling
  • Replacing gauze and dressing after teeth are removed
  • Polishing a patient's teeth using mechanical tools

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists remove tarter buildup and stains from a patient's teeth using picks or ultrasonic tools. They also clean plaque and calcium deposits from beneath the gums. Additionally, to identify areas of recessed gums, these professionals use probes. X-rays and a thorough examination for gingivitis, mouth sores, and oral cancer are also tasks for hygienists. Typically, they track a patient's oral health on dental charts, marking areas of concern for the dentist to consult during their own examination.

Job responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Recording a patient's blood pressure and pulse to monitor their general health
  • Cleaning and sterilizing all equipment
  • Applying protective fluorides to teeth
  • Educating patients on how to brush and floss properly, as well as how to choose foods that are safer for tooth enamel

Related Careers

Because dental therapists and oral surgeons both work to improve the oral health of patients, those interested in the former may want to research the latter. Similarly, dental hygienists and dentists both meet with patients and clean their teeth, so it may be worthwhile to research that career in depth.

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