The Difference Between a Dental Assistant and a Dental Technician

Although the two titles may sound similar, these two careers are actualy quite different and they both require different skill sets.

A dental assistant specializes in lending a helping hand to the dentist that they are working with. They can be found providing many different services that help a dentist do their job effectively and efficiently. This allows a dentist to give his full attention to the patient without having to worry about things like holding devices, taking measurements and record keeping.

A dental technician’s job does not require as much patient interaction. They are experts in creating specialized dental implants like dentures, crowns, custom mouth guards and orthodontic appliances. Dental technicians rely on measurements and statistics from the dentist to make a prosthesis that will fit patients perfectly.

The two careers have similar names, but they require a different skill set which must be considered by anyone who is looking to pursue them. It is important to closely look at these two different careers and their responsibilities to figure out exactly which one is right for you.

What Is A Dental Assistant’s Job?

A dental assistant needs to be able to adapt quickly and be ready to help out their employer in any way possible. They are known for being helpful, so much so that they are often considered a dentist’s “extra pair of hands.”

If you choose a career as a dental assistant, expect to deal with patients on a regular basis and assist your employer during procedures. Typically speaking, dental assistants need to be able to think quickly and be ready to help their employer with whatever they may need. This type of work deals with anything from patient interaction to record keeping; the job has a very broad spectrum.  For more about a dental assistant’s role and day-to-day responsibilities, see our article entitled What Is A Dental Assistant?

What Is A Dental Technician’s Job?

A dental technician does not have as much interaction with the public as a dental assistant. If you choose this career path, then you will spend most of your time examining prescriptions, drawings and dental impressions and creating crowns, dentures, custom made night guards, and other orthodontic appliances.

A dental technician usually does not work directly with a dentist like a dental assistant does. They work with dental models to get their measurements correct. Working this job requires someone who does not mind working off of dental molds and X-rays to get their dental appliances perfect. Employees typically work in a well-lit and sterile lab to make sure that they can do their work accurately.

Dental Assistant Training v. Dental Technician Training

A dental assistant’s job requires a degree or certification. This requirement is not set in stone and can vary from state to state. Some states need a college degree, while others require passing an accredited course. Either way, a dental assistant is expected to take training courses to obtain a specified degree of knowledge before they are experienced enough to do their job. For additional details, please refer to this article on the state by state requirements to become a dental assistant.

Employers looking for dental technicians usually prefer someone who has had a little hands-on experience. These jobs need a little on-the-job training; but typically technicians learn their trade from colleges, technical schools or dental laboratory programs accredited by the ADA. These programs typically take two years and lead to an associates degree.

If you want to become a dental technician, then it is important to have good manual dexterity and a personality that pays close attention to detail. Dental technicians need to be able to recognize color variations and shadings to make sure that their implants match their patients teeth. If you pay close attention to detail, then a dental technician career might be right for you.

Dental Assistant Salary vs. Dental Technician Salary

A dental assistant’s salary is, on average, $33,500 a year. This breaks down to about $16.10 per hour.  A dental technician’s average salary is slightly higher, at roughly $35,140 a year, or $16.90 per hour.

These jobs are both listed as healthcare support occupations, therefore their pay is not quite as high as a dentist’s. Both salaries vary from state to state with the lowest pay being about $18,500 per year and the highest being $57,000.

Both dental assistants and dental technicians are very important in the field of dentistry. If you are a helpful person that enjoys working with a variety of
people, then being a dental assistant may be right for you. If you have a flair for precision and enjoy working in well-lit sterile environments, then a dental technician career may be best suited for your skills and personality.