What is the Difference Between a Dental Assistant and a Dental Hygienist?

If you’re looking for a career in the dental field, you must be wondering, what is the difference between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant? What kind of schooling is required for both careers? What does each career entail? We will take a look at both of these careers in this article, providing you with the information necessary to discover a future in the dental field that is right for you.

What is a Dental Assistant and What do they do?

Assistants within the dental field do just as the name suggests; assist. They are the framework in which hygienists are able to do their work properly. These assistants perform preparatory and break-down duties in a dental office, including disinfecting, laying out instruments, obtaining dental records, handing instruments to the dentist; among many other tasks. Many assistants also perform x-rays, make teeth impressions, or perform minor dental tasks needed by the patient.

There are many states that require that these assistants are state-licensed, but requirements for licensing may vary by state. When required to become state-licensed, you must usually complete a training program and pass a particular exam. Requirements and length of the training program may vary. Usually these programs can be completed in a year and require some form of clinical training.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these types of assistants make an average of $17.76 per hour and $36,940 per year. Most jobs are acquired on an entry-level basis and job training can be done on the job.

What is a Dental Hygienist and What do they do?

A hygienist’s job is typically more independent and advanced. Necessary duties can include developing x-ray film, removing stains, plaque, or tartar from patients’ teeth, and polishing their teeth. These duties tend to be more complex than those performed by an assistant. They can administer anesthetics, make assessments about a patient’s conditions, and are usually not obligated to perform administrative tasks like assistants are.

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In most cases, hygienists are required to have a 2-year degree from a college or technical school. Schooling will include both clinical and classroom learning, including classes on pharmacology, dental radiology, and oral pathology. While requirements will vary by state, most states require you to obtain licensure through the state and have completed an accredited training program. The testing required for licensure typically includes a state-administered practical exam and a written exam that is administered by the American Dental Association.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hygienists make an average of $35.05 per hour and $72,910 per year. An associate’s degree is usually required, but jobs can be found on an entry-level basis. On-the-job training will not be as extensive as the training provided for assistants because of the clinical training provided through your hygienist training.

The differences between these two may seem slight, but there are some very distinct differences between these two careers. Assistants require less education and training, make less money, but are also required to do less arduous tasks. Hygienists require more education and training, make more money, but are also required to perform more clinical tasks than assistants. The information provided in this article can help you decide whether being a dental assistant or a dental hygienist is best for you.