Difference Between Dental Hygienist & Dentist

Dental hygienists and dentists work closely together to help with the oral health of a patient. Though they work together, they job duties vary greatly. Learn about how these occupations differ and relate.

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Comparing Dental Hygienists to Dentists

Dental hygienists and dentists both help patients achieve better teeth and gums. Dental hygienists focus on cleaning teeth, while dentists supervise dental hygienists and provide treatment to patients relating to their teeth, gums, and mouth. Read on to discover more information about these two oral healthcare professionals.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Dental Hygienist Associate's Degree $72,910 19%
Dentist Doctoral or Professional Degree $153,900 (for general dentists) 18%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Dental Hygienists vs Dentists

Dental hygienists and dentists provide services to patients that relate to their oral health, which includes their teeth, gums, and other parts of the mouth. They both must be skilled with a variety of tools that are used, though these tools do vary for each occupation. Dental hygienists focus on cleaning the teeth, so they use instruments such as ultrasonic tools, lasers, and polishers. Dentists must be able to diagnose any issues in the mouth, which would involve use of other tools such as mirrors, drills, brushes, and scalpels. Dental hygienists normally work under the supervision of dentists and assist them when needed.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists are responsible for cleaning teeth and educating patients on techniques to use to improve their overall oral health. Dental hygienists work closely with patients, including patients who are nervous to have dental work done, so hygienists must have excellent interpersonal skills and show compassion to patients to ensure their visit is successful. They must be detail-oriented to effectively assist the dentist and inform them of any issues they notice while inspecting and cleaning a patient's teeth. They must be able to work well with their hands, since they are inspecting teeth in a small area and checking for any problems.

Job responsibilities of a dental hygienist include:

  • Using sealants and fluoride treatments to protect teeth
  • Teaching patients to brush and floss
  • Recording treatment and creating plans
  • Recognizing signs of oral disease
  • Taking X-rays of the patient's mouth


Dentists diagnose patients, advise them on necessary treatment and perform dental work. Their job requires them to have excellent leadership skills to effectively lead their staff. They also must have patience and physical stamina, since they work with patients of varied ages and complete procedures that may involve a long time spent bending to look into patients' mouths. Dentists are responsible for analyzing patients' teeth and deciding on the best treatment to best suit the patient. They must also keep records on the care they give.

Job responsibilities of a dentist include:

  • Removing decay from teeth
  • Filling cavities
  • Repairing teeth
  • Giving anesthetics for procedures
  • Prescribing medications needed
  • Creating models of the teeth to use for different dental needs

Related Careers

Individuals interested in a career as a dental hygienist may want to consider becoming a registered nurse instead, since the job of a nurse involves working closely with patients and providing education on a patient's health. A surgeon is an alternative career option for those interested in becoming a dentist, since they also perform procedures to treat patients.

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