In the everyday practice of dentistry, both the dental assistant and the hygienist play supportive roles. Moreover, both of them work under the supervision of the dentist. For many people, the roles of both the dental assistant and hygienist may seem interchangeable. However, there is a significant distinction between the responsibilities of both positions.
If you are someone confused between which career field to choose, you must first understand the different activities performed by a dental assistant and a hygienist. Moreover, you need to understand what each job entails. Let’s take a closer look at the responsibilities of a dental assistant and a dental hygienist in this article.
Who is a dental assistant?
Dental assistants typically perform nondental activities. Some of these activities include disinfection and arrangement of the instruments, obtaining the patient’s dental records, and handing tools to the dentist during procedures. Additionally, dental assistants instruct the patients on how to take care of their teeth post-treatment. (1)
Dental assistants also look after some administrative office work, for example, billing patients, receiving payments, and ordering dental supplies. Some of the critical responsibilities of dental assistants include –
- Patient educations
- Scheduling appointments
- Documenting patient charts
- Maintaining dental supply
- Fee collection and accounting
- Looking after insurance forms
- Instrument sterilization and preparation
- Carrying out fluoride treatments
It is not mandatory to undergo formal education for dental assistants to practice in a private office. However, some states may require certification and additional licensure to operate a dental x-ray machine. Students can acquire completion certificates by undergoing one-year programs specialized for dental assistant learning. The median salary of a dental assistant usually ranges between $30,000 – $40,000 per annum.
Who is a dental hygienist?
A dental hygienist usually performs tasks that are more independent and advanced. Some of these tasks may include removal of hard and soft deposits from the tooth surface, polishing the teeth, and the use of ultrasonic equipment to remove tartar and stains from the tooth surface. (2)
Typically, as the name suggests, dental hygienists mainly focus on maintaining the oral health and hygiene of the patient. Some other essential responsibilities of a dental hygienist include –
- Performing extra-oral and intra-oral examinations
- Recording periodontal chart
- Check vital signs
- Interpret radiographic examinations
- Risk assessment
To become a dental hygienist, you may have to undergo formal education for at least two to four years, depending on the type of curriculum provided by different dental hygienist schools. After graduation, the students are required to complete national board examinations and practical licensing exams to become eligible for practicing in a private dental office. (3)
Additionally, dental hygienists also have the option to work along with educators and researchers. The median annual salary of a dental hygienist usually sums up to $70,000 – $90,000 per annum.
Choosing between the two options
Both dental assisting and dental hygiene career paths are challenging yet rewarding. Moreover, both require a passion for comprehensively serving people in need of dental health. Typically, the differences between the dental assistant and hygienist center on the type of task they perform in the dental office. Additionally, their level of interaction with the patients is also different with each role.
The dental assistant provides direct aid to the dentist, helps with office tasks, and performs small supervised procedures on a patient. While a dental hygienist often works one-on-one with the patients. Moreover, a dental hygienist does not require constant supervision of the dentist. (4)
In some cases, dental assistants may not require formal education depending on the state in which they practice. However, a dental hygienist must strictly have an associate’s degree and a state license to practice in a dental office.