What’s the Difference Between a Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist?

While both dental assistants and dental hygienists play support roles in the dental office and work under the supervision of a dentist, their roles seem to be interchangeable to many people outside the dental industry but there are some important distinctions in their roles at their offices. Anyone planning to choose either of these careers must know about these differences between hygiene assistant v/s dental assistant.

The differences between a dental assistant and hygienist centers around the tasks they perform at their dental clinics and their interaction with the patients. Perhaps the biggest differentiating factor between these dental support positions is that a dental assistant provides direct aid to dentists, conducting office tasks, and small, supervised jobs on patients’ teeth, while a hygienist often works one-on-one with a patient, and doesn’t have as much constant supervision. Another obvious difference is the level of education required for these two differing roles. Dental hygienists must also hold at least an associate’s degree and a state license in the field, while dental assistants may or may not need formal education, depending on the state in which they work.

Overview of Dental Assistant Role

Dental assistants perform both preparatory and break-down duties in the dental office. Depending on the state of employment, dental assistants may be allowed to do some additional advanced duties, including applying topical anesthetic, sealant applications, coronal polishing, and fluoride applications. Some of their typical duties include the following:
  • Working closely with patients before, during and after treatment
  • Disinfecting and laying out instruments and equipments
  • Obtaining patients’ dental records
  • Taking impressions of patient’s teeth for study casts
  • Handing instruments to dentists during procedures
  • Instructing patients on oral hygiene and care
  • Preparing x-ray machines, impression materials, anesthetics, and cement
  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Billing patients and handling payments
  • Ordering dental supplies
dental assistant vs hygienist
Some states require that dental assistants be licensed, to complete one-year certificate or diploma programs but these requirements vary from state to state. According to the U.S. dental assistant vs hygienist Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for dental assistants is $40,000 which is projected to further rise in employment opportunities in the near future.

Overview of Dental Hygienist Role

A dental hygienist performs more advanced tasks than a dental assistant and involves direct patient care. State law determines what tasks a hygienist may perform, but typical duties across the world may include:
  • Collecting information about the patient’s oral and medical health history
  • Polishing patients’ teeth
  • Removing hard and soft deposits from teeth
  • Using several tools to remove tartar, plaque, and stains
  • Making molds of patients’ teeth used for evaluating treatment
  • Charting patients’ dental conditions for the dentist
  • Applying fluorides and decay preventatives
  • Administering local anesthetics
  • Removing sutures and dressings

Education requirements for these professionals include earning an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, and most programs take about three years to complete. License requirements differ among different states, but typically individuals must pass an accredited training program as well as clinical and written examinations.

The median annual wage for dental hygienists is considerably faster compared to other career fields and expected to rise further.


So, with all the differences mentioned above the roles of dental assistant v/s dental hygienist seem to be quite differing in nature and are not interchangeable. While dental assistants tend to perform more administrative duties to assist dentists, dental hygienists work directly with patients to help clean their teeth prior to dental exams. Both careers are expected to have positive job growth, potential of high salaries and more fulfilling and rewarding careers.

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