Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant – What is the Difference Between Them?

Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant

Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant: What is the Difference Between A Dental Assistant and Hygienist?

If you’re not familiar with the world of dental careers, it’s easy to mix up a dental assistant and a dental hygienist, or even assume they are one and the same. While both positions work under the supervision of a dentist, they perform separate tasks and have a different level of interaction with patients. Both are invaluable roles in the dental field with promising outlooks in career growth.

In this article, you will learn about the unique differences in roles, requirements, and salaries between Dental Assistants and Hygienists

Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant: Introduction

Without any doubt, building a career in healthcare is not only stable and fulfilling, but also very reputable! If you’re interested in dental care, you should be aware of two important positions: Dental Assistants (DAs) and Dental Hygienists (DHs). Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant are both dental health professions who support dentists while providing clients with high-quality services. However, there are some crucial distinctions between the two.

Tip #1: Keep in mind that Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists are separate professions. Dental Assistants work under the supervision of dentists in their day-to-day activities, while Dental Hygienists complete a wider range of job duties and responsibilities.

If you’re considering entering in the dental field, becoming a Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist are two very rewarding career paths. Both of these professions are in high demand and are expected to see positive job growth over the next ten years. Before you make a career change you should know the responsibilities, program requirements, and certification process for each role. Continue reading to discover everything you need to know about these two noble professions.

Dental Hygienist and Dental Assistant Defined

Below is a quick definition of these two professions:

Who is a Dental Assistant?

Dental Assistants perform several different tasks, including patient care, recordkeeping, and appointment scheduling. Their duties can vary by state and employer. DAs typically have an eye for detail, maintain impressive dexterity, and support dentists while patients are treated.

Who is a Dental Hygienist?

While both roles support the dental team, there are specific duties that only a Dental Hygienist can perform. They examine patients for signs of oral diseases, provide preventive care, and educate patients on oral health as well as oral hygiene.

Both roles are ideal for those who enjoy working with their hands while caring for patients.

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Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist: Responsibilities

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

The day-to-day responsibilities of a dental assistant include:

#1. They ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair

#2. Dental assistants prepare patients for treatments and procedures

#3. They sterilise dental instruments

#4. Dental assistants hand instruments to dentists during procedures

#5. They dry patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment

#6. It is the duty of a dental assistant to Instruct patients about maintaining proper oral hygiene

#7. They are responsible for Processing X-rays and completing lab tasks under the supervision of a dentist

#8. Dental assistants also keep records of dental treatments

#9. They schedule appointments

#10. Dental assistants work with patients to complete billing and payment

Tip #2: Dental Assistants work closely with dentists and Dental Hygienists. The role of a dental assistant is ideal for those who enjoy working with their hands while caring for patients. Dental Assistants provide critical support in the dental office, essentially acting as the dentist’s extra set of hands.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

The day-to-day responsibilities of Dental Hygienists include:

#1. Dental hygienist remove tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth

#2. They apply sealants and fluorides to help protect teeth

#3. Dental hygienists are also responsible for taking and developing dental X-rays

#4. They assess patients’ oral health and report findings to dentists

#5. Dental hygienist are responsible for documenting patient care and treatment plans

#6. They also educate patients about oral hygiene, such as how to brush and floss correctly

Tip #3: While dental assistants and hygienists both support the dental team, there are specific duties that only a Dental Hygienist can perform. A dental hygienist examine patients for signs of oral diseases and administer preventive care. They also educate patients about how to maintain proper oral health and hygiene. Dental Hygienists often use several advanced tools on the job. In some cases, they may even use lasers to remove stains with the help of an air-polishing device. Dental Hygienists also utilize X-ray machines to check for tooth or jaw issues.

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Dental Assistant (DAs) vs Dental Hygienist (DHs) Education

In our comparison of dental assistants and dental hygienists, we also need to take a quick look on their educational requirements:

Educational Requirement for Dental Assistants (DAs)

The education requirements for Dental Assistants will largely depend on the state in which you seek employment. While some places do not have any formal education requirements—allowing their employees to learn through on-the-job training—others will only accept DAs who have graduated from an accredited program and passed an exam.

Many of these programs can be found in community colleges or vocational schools. They usually take one year or less to complete, leading to a certificate or diploma. In these programs, students learn through a combination of traditional class instruction and hands-on exercises.

Tip #4: High school students who are interested in a Dental Assisting career should pursue courses in anatomy, biology, and chemistry.

Some states even allow their DAs to complete expanded duties such as coronal polishing. In these states, Dental Assistants typically must be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Applicants of DANB will need to:

  • Pass an exam
  • Graduate from an accredited program or hold a high school diploma/complete the required amount of work experience
  • Maintain current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • To learn more about specific certifications or licensing requirements, reach out to your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Educational Requirements for Dental Hygienists

To become a Dental Hygienist, you will likely need to obtain an associate degree in dental hygiene. These programs often take about three years to complete. Although requirements vary by state, all DHs must hold a license.

Some Dental Hygienists may even pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree. These degrees may be required for research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school-health programs. To find a program, look at community colleges, vocational schools, or universities. In addition, the Commission on Dental Accreditation has accredited over 300 Dental Hygiene programs. Areas of study in these programs may include anatomy, medical ethics, and periodontics (i.e., the study of gum disease).

Tip #5: High school students who would like to become Dental Hygienists should consider courses in biology, chemistry, and math. Keep in mind that many DH programs require their applicants to complete prerequisites, which typically include college-level courses. Summer school, anyone?

Similar to Dental Assisting, you can learn more about specific certifications or licensing requirements by contacting your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist Work Environment

There are many job opportunities and openings for dental assistants and dental hygienist. Let’s explore some of these information:

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Dental Assistants held about 354,600 jobs in 2019. Their largest employers fell into three main categories:

#1. Offices of dentists

#2. Offices of physicians

#3. Government

Dental Assistants (DAs) work under the supervision of dentists and often support Dental Hygienists during their day-to-day activities. They might wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves. Many Dental Assistants work full-time, though some may work on the evenings or weekends.

Where Do Dental Hygienist Work?

According to the BLS, Dental Hygienists held around 226,400 jobs in 2019. Their largest employers fell into the same three categories as Dental Assistants, with offices of dentists overwhelmingly at the top (93%).

Similar to DAs, Dental Hygienists follow protocol and wear safety glasses, surgical masks, and gloves. Unlike Dental Assistants, many DHs work part-time. This is because some dentists only hire hygienists to work a few days each week. Because of this, a Dental Hygienist might work for several different dentists.

Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist Salary

The next stage of our comparative analysis is the study of the salaries of dental assistants and dental hygienists:

Dental Assistants Salary

According to the BLS, Dental Assistants earn about $40,000 per year. The top 10 percent of DAs can earn over $56,000. Dental Assisting salaries can vary depending on your location and level of experience.

The following is a list of the highest paying states for Dental Assistants:

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Minnesota $25.10 $52,220
Alaska $23.73 $49,350
New Hampshire $23.69 $49,280
Massachusetts $23.45 $48,770
North Dakota $22.66 $47,140

The highest paying cities for Dental Assistants include:

City  Average Hourly Wage  Average Salary
Santa Rosa, CA $26.93 $56,010
Minneapolis, MN $26.21 $54,510
Rochester, MN $25.49 $53,010
San Jose, CA $25.18 $52,380
San Francisco, CA $24.76 $51,510
Bismarck, ND $24.69 $51,360
Portsmouth, NH $24.60 $51,170
Napa, CA $24.24 $50,420
Fairbanks, AK $24.18 $50,280
Boston, MA $24.15 $50,220

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS projects the employment of Dental Assistants to grow 7 percent by 2029, which is faster than the average for all occupations (4%). As the elderly population ages, the need for dental hygiene and oral healthcare will only increase. Dentists will likely need to hire more Dental Assistants to complete routine tasks, which would allow dentists to complete their work in a timelier manner.

How Much Do Dental Hygienists Make?

Dental Hygienists are paid more than DAs. According to the BLS, the average salary of a Dental Hygienist is about $76,000. The top 10 percent of Dental Hygienists can earn more than $103,000.

The following is a list of the highest paying states for Dental Hygienists:

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
Alaska $55.19 $114,790
California $51.08 $106,240
District of Columbia $49.22 $102,380
Washington $44.81  $93,200
Oregon $41.96 $87,270

The highest paying cities for Dental Hygienists include:

City  Average Hourly Wage  Average Salary
Santa Maria, CA $67.38 $140,150
Sunnyvale, CA $57.89 $120,420
Hayward, CA $54.78 $113,940
Santa Rosa, CA $54.52 $113,390
Fairfield, CA $54.18 $112,700
Fairbanks, AK $53.77 $111,830
Napa, CA $53.14 $110,520
Santa Cruz, CA $52.89 $110,020
Anchorage, AK $52.63 $109,470
Madera, CA $52.15 $108,460

Dental Hygienist Job Outlook

Like Dental Assisting, employment of Dental Hygienists is expected to grow. The BLS projects that by 2029, employment will increase by 6 percent, which is also faster than the average for all occupations (4%).

The baby-boomer population has increased the demand for dental services. Since they have kept more of their teeth than other generations, they will require more maintenance and overall dental care. Dentists are expected to hire more Dental Hygienists and expand their team in general.

Why Should You Pursue a Career in Dental Care?

 

Having seen the analysis of Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant, I believe you’re convinced that pursuing a career in Dental Assisting is a better choice if you are just starting your post-high school education. The beauty of enrolling in a Dental Assistant program is that you can complete the program within a year. Moreover, DA training covers a variety of skill sets, which is highly desirable to employers.

Both roles could be an excellent alternative for anyone looking to make a career change. They both require a steady pair of hands and an eye for detail. Since you are likely to serve numerous patients each day, it’s also vital that you present a friendly and personable demeanor.

The BLS reports that Dental Assisting is one of the fastest growing healthcare roles. If you want to climb the ladder in oral healthcare, you may want to start with Dental Assisting.

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