Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant: What’s the Difference?


We know and love the people that care for us when at the dentist, but do you know what their jobs are? Today we’re going to explain the difference between a dental assistant vs. a dental hygienist. The differences center around their daily duties and schooling, but either way they both help to keep our patients comfortable and healthy! 

Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist works side-by-side with the dentist to provide the best oral healthcare to the patients. A dental hygienists job duties can vary from dental office to office, but the American Dental Association lists that some of the services a dental hygienist will provide include:

  • Screening patient procedures and assessing oral health conditions by reviewing medical history, doing oral cancer screenings, inspecting the head and neck, dental charting, and taking blood pressure
  • Taking and developing patient x-rays
  • Removing hard and soft deposits from all surfaces of the teeth
  • Helping patient with preventative measures by applying things like sealants and fluoride
  • Showing the patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain their oral health once home, like how to brush and floss appropriately
  • Counseling patients on nutrition
  • Making impressions of patients’ teeth for study
  • Documenting and office management

Being a dental hygienist is no easy feat, but can be one of the best career opportunities in the dental field since they work so close with the patients day in and day out.

What Schooling is Required?

In most instances, dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Dental hygienist programs can also be found at vocational and trade schools, technical schools, and even most universities. Career Colleges states that though there are multiple routes to take to becoming a dental hygienist, the most common steps to starting this profession include:

  • Enrolling in a degree program in dental hygiene that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)
  • Researching state-specific requirements for a dental hygiene license
  • Pass a written and practical licensing exam that is required by the state you’re going to be working in
  • Submit required documentation for licensure to the dental hygienist licensing agency of the appropriate state
  • Apply for the job and begin the interviewing process

Dental Assistant

A dental assistant is one of the people within the dentist office that helps everything run smoothly each day. Job descriptions of dental assistants are extremely varied from one dental practice to the next, but the American Dental Association says some of their responsibilities can include:

  • Assisting the dentist during a variety of treatments and procedures
  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Learning about the patient’s health history and taking vitals
  • Serving as infection control officer, coming up with an infection control plan for the office to implement and maintaining a sterile environment
  • Helping patients feel comfortable through all parts of their treatments
  • Teaching patients how to care for their mouths after treatments
  • Showing patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies, like how to brush and floss
  • Getting models of teeth
  • Performing office management tasks
  • Communicating with patients and supplies, which can include making appointments, answering the phone, ordering supplies, and more
  • Helping provide patient care in all dental specialties, like orthodontics, periodontics, surgery, and more

Becoming a Dental Assistant

Unlike going the dental hygienist route, there is no required degree program to become a dental assistant. However, most states regulate the work of dental assistants, according to Very Well Health, and there are requirements to complete licensing from an accredited dental assisting program or exam. Generally, the options include:

  • One-year training program
  • Associates degree from a community college
  • Or by getting on-the-job training

The employment of dental assistants is showing to grow 11% from 2018-2028, which is a much faster pace than most occupations. There’s a link between oral health and our overall wellbeing. Because of this, we will continue to see an increase in the demand for preventative dentistry.

When you know you’ll be met with caring and knowledgeable dental hygienists and dental assistants, it can take away some of the fear of visiting the dentist. Through all the steps, you’ll know you’re getting the best possible care. At some point during your procedure or cleaning, you’ll be interacting with either, or both, a dental hygienist and dental assistant.

Schedule an Appointment

We invite you to schedule an appointment today with Niles Family Dentistry and come meet our experienced hygienists and assistants. You’ll be cared for as soon as you call to make an appointment. You can rest assured that we’ll be with you every step of the way. Call us now to get the best dental care out there! (720)-744-0001

Ashley Niles

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