The dental assistant and dental hygienist positions are both looked at similarly but these are actually two very different professions.
As the name suggests, a dental assistant’s job is to assist the dentist with the running of his/her practice. A dental assistant will have a wide range of duties and responsibilities which mostly focus around patient interaction, recordkeeping, and taking care of other small administrative or procedural tasks under the directions of the dentist.
On the other hand, a dental hygienist is an oral healthcare professional trained in preventative oral health care. Both dental assistants and dental hygienists generally work under the direct supervision of a dentist.
The two dental careers fall in the same field, but the differences are very notable and should be carefully considered by anyone looking into a dental career. When looking at the responsibilities and benefits of a dental assistant vs dental hygienist career, it’s important to carefully examine the qualification requirements, job duties and responsibilities, as well as average salary for each position.
There is no denying that the prospect of a career as a dental hygienist may have more of an upside than that of a dental assistant, but less formal training is required to work as a dental assistant. Each position is very respectable with reasonable pre-requisite requirements and a good starting salary.
What’s The Difference Between a Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist?
Not only do dental assistants and dental hygienists perform different roles in a dental office, but their educational paths are significantly different as well. Some of the pre-requisite courses that are required to start an accredited dental health program will be the same, but the actual program you must take will be different. Additionally, some states don’t have any educational requirements to become a dental assistant.
The course work, length of the program, and level of hands-on experience will also vary depending on whether you enroll in dental assisting education or dental hygiene education.
The Dental Assistant – What Do They Do?
The dental assistant will generally spend his/her days handling patients, taking care of administrative tasks around the office, and providing assistance to the dentist for simple tasks.
Some of the more common tasks of a dental assistant include interacting with patients, preparing them for dental procedures, prepping the work area with the appropriate dental instruments and materials, handling paperwork, billing the patients, setting up future appointments, and informing patients with general information regarding proper dental hygiene.
Dental assistants don’t generally complete any procedures on their own, and minimal (if any) laboratory work is required. For more about a dental assistant’s duties and day-to-day responsibilities, see our article entitled What Is A Dental Assistant?.
>The Dental Hygienist – What Do They Do?
The dental hygienist is a lot more hands on than the dental assistant and performs a very different function in a dental office. Like a dental assistant, dental hygienists work under a dentist in most offices, but they handle more independent responsibilities.
The dental hygienist may be required to complete prophylaxis, scaling, root planing, perform radiographs, dental sealants, and administer fluoride to patients. The dental hygienist will also provide preventative dental care instructions and with licensing may even be allowed to administer local anesthesia to patients. The dental hygienist may also take preliminary steps to identifying dental conditions, though the responsibility for diagnosis and treatment of dental conditions and disease belongs to the dentist.
In summary, since dental hygienists are actually responsible for certain aspects of oral care, the dental hygienist position requires a lot more technical training and independent performance. The dental assistant will handle general paperwork, inquiries, and assistance but does not get too involved with any actual dental work.