If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the world of dental care, you might have come across the terms ‘Dental Assistant’ and ‘Dental Hygienist.’

Now, even though both these careers might sound similar, there are many differences that set them apart.

Dental Assistants assist dentists every day, while Dental Hygienists have more tasks and responsibilities.

If you want to work in dental care, becoming a Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist can be a very fulfilling career.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about these two important jobs.

dental hygienist

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: An Overview

What Is a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants help the dentist with regular tasks. Their roles and responsibilities may include taking pictures of teeth, getting patients ready for treatments, and assisting with cleaning during dental procedures. They may also take x-rays of patients and guide them to the dentist’s chair from the waiting area.

What is a Dental Hygienist?

A Dental Hygienist is a person who assists the dental team. They check patients for oral diseases, help in preventing dental problems, and teach patients about oral health and hygiene.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Responsibilities

What does a Dental Assistant do?

Dental Assistants help dentists and Dental Hygienists in the dental office. They perform many important tasks in caring for patients.

Here are some things they do every day:

  • Make sure patients feel comfortable in the dental chair.
  • Get things ready for treatments and procedures.
  • Help during oral surgeries.
  • Clean and sterilize dental tools.
  • Give tools to the dentist during procedures.
  • Use suction hoses and equipment to keep the patient’s mouth dry.
  • Make dental molds.
  • Teach patients how to take care of their teeth.
  • Take and develop dental X-rays and do lab tasks under the dentist’s guidance.
  • Keep track of dental supplies.
  • Schedule patient appointments.
  • Help patients with billing and payments.

What does a Dental Hygienist do?

A Dental Hygienist is a person who helps the dental team by performing specific tasks. They check for oral diseases in patients and give them preventive care.

Dental Hygienists also teach patients how to take care of their teeth properly. Dental Hygienists use special tools, and sometimes even lasers, to clean teeth and remove stains.

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Their everyday job includes:

  • Removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth.
  • Putting protective coatings on teeth,
  • Taking X-rays of teeth
  • Checking patients’ oral health and telling dentists about it,
  • Teaching patients how to brush and floss their teeth the right way.

dental hygienist showing sample of teeth

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Educational Requirements

Educational Requirements for Dental Assistants

Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists have different education requirements.

For Dental Assistants, the needed education varies by state. Some states don’t ask for formal education, allowing you to learn through on-the-job training.

But in other areas, you need to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam.

To become a Dental Assistant, you can enroll yourself in an online training program that can be completed in a few months.

Know more: Dental Assistant Online Programs

Once you are done with the training program, there is the Dental Assisting National Board(DANB’s) NELDA certification exam. It covers three exams: Infection Control (ICE), Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), and Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP).

You have the choice to take the exams separately or together, and after passing this exam, you become a National Entry Level Dental Assistant.

Further, there is DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant(CDA) Certification which also contains three exams:  Infection Control (ICE), Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), and General Chairside Assisting (GC). In this exam, also you have the choice to take all three exams together or separately.

Passing these exams will make you stand apart by giving you recognition as a Certified Dental Assistant.

Know more:
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Educational Requirements for Dental Hygienists

To become a Dental Hygienist, you usually need to have an associate degree or a Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygiene. An associate’s Degree takes around two years to complete, while a Bachelor’s Degree in Dental Hygienist takes around four years.

If we compare both professions from the above context, it can be concluded that becoming a Dental Assistant is faster than a Dental Hygienist.

dental care

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Work Environment

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

Dental assistants and Dental Hygienists work in different places. According to BLS, Dental assistants had around 3,58,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers belong to three major categories:

  • Dentist offices
  • Government
  • Physician offices.

Dental Assistants help dentists and also support dental hygienists. They wear safety glasses, masks, protective clothing, and gloves to keep themselves safe. Some work full-time, while others work in the evenings or on weekends.

Where do dental hygienists work?

In 2021, BLS stated there were about 2,14,000 jobs for dental hygienists. Most of them work in the same places as dental assistants, and the majority (94%) work in dentists’ offices.

Like dental assistants, dental hygienists also follow the rules and wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves. But unlike dental assistants, many dental hygienists work part-time. This means they only work a few days each week.

Some dentists hire hygienists only for certain days. This means as a dental hygienist; you might work for different dentists at different times.

Dental Assistant Salary vs. Dental Hygienist

According to BLS, Dental Assistant Salary is around $45,000 per year, which is about $22 per hour.

Their salary figures can differ based on where they work and how much experience they have.

How much money do Dental Hygienists earn?

Dental Hygienists are paid more than dental assistants. On average, a dental hygienist’s salary is about $85,000 per year, which is about $41 per hour.

Additional Sources:
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