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

If you are looking for a rewarding career in the healthcare field, dentistry may be the right fit for you. From assistants to hygienists to doctors, there are many different roles you can pursue within the dental profession. Which dental career path will be the right one for you?

Dental hygienists and dental assistants are two entry-level, in-demand careers with very bright job outlooks. In fact, they are the two dentist careers that gain the most interest among individuals pursuing an associate’s dental degree.

Are you considering a dental hygienist school or dental assistant certification? Are you unsure of the differences between the two? Although the education path and roles of assistants and hygienists may align, there is great distinction between the two.

Dental Assistants

Do you remember the person that you see when you first come into the dentist’s office? The one that gives you oral care instructions just before you schedule your next visit? That is your dental assistant.

Dental assistants have a range of tasks, from providing patient care and taking x-rays, to more administrative tasks like scheduling appointments. Their job description matches their title. Dental assistants assist doctors by performing preparatory duties in the dental office, such as:

  • Disinfecting dental instruments in preparation for patient exams
  • Processing patient x-rays and completing lab tests
  • Providing fluoride treatments
  • Obtaining and recording patient dental records
  • Billing patients and filing insurance claims
  • Scheduling appointments

There are many paths one can take to becoming a dental assistant. In most states, you have to graduate from an accredited dental assistant program and pass a state certification exam. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in dental assisting are projected to grow 18 percent by 2024. The average salary of a dental assistant is currently $35,390, or $17 an hour.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists typically have more advanced responsibilities than a dental assistant, as they work directly with patients throughout the entirety of their visit. Dental hygienists, as their title implies, clean teeth and examine patients for oral health conditions. Their job description, however, goes much beyond simple oral hygiene. Today, hygienists are independently responsible for duties once allocated only to dentists. These tasks include:

  • Conducting oral exams
  • Removing tartar, plaque, and stains from patients’ teeth
  • Removing hard and soft deposits from teeth
  • Applying sealants, fluorides, and polish for protection
  • Taking radiographs
  • Documenting plans for patient care and treatment
  • Providing patient education on preventive oral care, including brushing and flossing

The career outlook in dental hygiene is forecasting bright smiles among students pursuing an associate degree in dental hygiene, with an expected 19 percent growth within the next decade. The current salary for dental hygienists, on average, is up to $71,520 per year, $34.38 per hour. With the aging baby boomer population and ongoing research into oral health, the value of dental hygiene professionals is being recognized more than ever.

Becoming a dental hygienist typically requires an associate degree from a reputable career college, as well as the completion of the National Board exams. In Connecticut, once students successfully pass their dental hygienist program, they obtain the Connecticut Dental Hygienist Licensure.

How can you can start your dental career at Goodwin College? Click to learn about our Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene program today!