What's the Difference Between Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist?

Are you considering entering the dental field, but unsure of the differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists? Although the duties of assistants and hygienists may seem similar, there's a clear distinction between the two occupations. Read on to learn more about these professions and how they differ. Schools offering Dental Hygiene degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Dental Assistants vs. Dental Hygienists

Dental assistants and dental hygienists are different in many aspects, including their job duties and education and licensing requirements. Dental assistants are certified professionals who generally handle office administration and minor clinical tasks, while dental hygienists are licensed and perform clinical procedures. Their wages are also very different. Dental hygienists, for instance, earn significantly higher wages than dental assistants. In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that dental assistants earned a mean annual wage of $36,260. Dental hygienists, on the other hand, earned a mean annual wage of $71,520 - almost twice as much as dental assistants.

Important Facts About These Occupations

Dental Assistant Dental Hygienist
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 18% growth 19% growth
Key Skills Organizational, interpersonal, and listening skills Dexterity, compassion, and physical stamina
Work Environment Dentists' offices Dentists' offices
Similar Occupations Pharmacy technician, surgical technologist Radiation therapist, registered nurse

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Dental Assistant Job Description & Education Requirements

Dental assistants help dentists with a variety of office administration tasks. As a dental assistant, you may also work closely with patients before and after dental examinations, assist with tools and materials and inform patients of oral hygiene concepts. Clerical duties may include managing patient records and confirming appointments. Depending upon the specific situation, a dental assistant may have more complex responsibilities, such as making teeth impressions and taking oral X-rays.

Many dental assistants learn occupational skills through on-the-job training; however, the BLS reports that some states require prospective assistants to complete formal training programs. Dental assisting programs are offered through community colleges and technical institutes. These programs can be completed in approximately one year and typically result in a certificate or diploma. Curricula combines in-class instruction with practical, clinical training and typically include courses like chairside assisting, dental materials and dental office administration.

Some states require dental assistants to become licensed to perform advanced duties, such as radiology services and imaging procedures. To become licensed, you may be required to complete an accredited training program and pass an exam. Many states also require you to be certified by the Dental Assisting National Board. Eligibility requirements for certification include graduation from an accredited training program and CPR certification or a high school diploma and 3,500 experience hours within the past two years (www.danb.org). Candidates must also pass an exam and, after earning the Certified Dental Assistant credential, maintain certification through earning continuing education.

Dental Hygienist Job Description & Education Requirements

Dental hygienists tend to perform more complex duties compared to dental assistants. Duties may include conducting oral cancer screenings, cleaning teeth and charting patients' dental health. Dental hygienists may also apply fluorides, administer anesthetics, prepare diagnostic exams for the dentist and make assessments about patient's dental conditions. Unlike dental assistants, hygienists are typically not responsible for clerical or administrative tasks.

Dental hygienists typically need an associate's degree in dental hygiene. These 2-year degree programs are available at community, technical and dental colleges and consist of both clinical practicums and classroom learning. Courses may include oral pathology, community dentistry, pharmacology and dental radiology. Some colleges and universities also offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in dental hygiene, which prepare students for research or teaching positions. Dental hygienists are required to obtain licensure by the state in which they wish to practice. Requirements vary, but most states require that you complete an accredited dental hygiene training program. Candidates must also pass a state-administered practical exam, as well as a written exam administered by the American Dental Association. Depending on your state, you may also be required to pass an exam that covers dental hygiene law and regulations.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Fortis College

    Fortis College responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Fortis College:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Maryland: Towson
  • Independence University

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    • Master

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  • College of Health Care Professions

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    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Texas: Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio
  • Regent University

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    • Doctoral
    • Master

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  • Herzing University

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  • Grand Canyon University

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    • Master
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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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    • Master

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  • Penn Foster

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  • Keiser University

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    • Associate Programs

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  • Northcentral University

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