Dental assistants require less training but also earn significantly less than dental hygienists do. Dental assistants work alongside dentists as a second set of hands, holding suction devices while the dentist works and passing the necessary tools when the dentist needs them; they also sometimes carry out office tasks, such as scheduling appointments or creating payment plans. Dental hygienists are more like medical technicians. They oversee preventative measures, such as teeth cleanings, postoperative suture removal, and diagnose dental health problems for a dentist to fix; some are also licensed to administer local anesthesia.

Comparison chart

Dental Assistant versus Dental Hygienist comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartDental AssistantDental Hygienist
Introduction Assistants work alongside dentists as a second set of hands, holding suction devices while the dentist works and passing the necessary tools when the dentist needs them; they also sometimes carry out office tasks, such as scheduling appointments. Hygienists oversee preventative measures, such as teeth cleanings, postoperative suture removal, and diagnose dental health problems for a dentist to fix; some are also licensed to administer local anesthesia.
Responsibilities Scheduling appointments, setting up and sterilizing the proper tools for procedures, maintaining patient records, assisting dentists and hygienists with patient care and office/administrative duties. Preventive services like prophylaxis (cleaning); scaling, and root planing; periodontal charting; taking X-rays. Some hygienists may even be licensed to administer anesthesia.
Salary Median pay is $34,500 in the U.S. Median pay is $70,210 in the U.S.
Work schedule Less flexible. Generally in the office during office hours. Flexible; can schedule around personal activities and work full-time or part-time.
Educational Requirements Requirements vary by country and state. In the U.S., some states will allow assistants to learn through mentorship from an established assistant; other states require some form of certification or other education. Requirements vary by country and state. In the U.S., hygienists must be licensed to practice and need at least an associate's degree in an accredited dental hygiene program; bachelor's degrees are less common but do exist.
Internships Internships are common as this is where much of an assistant's learning is done. Yes, internships are needed for one to practice. Some states require 100+ hours of interning before a hygienist can earn his or her license.
Job Growth Faster than average job growth in the U.S. through 2020. In slightly less demand than hygienists are. Faster than average job growth in the U.S. through 2020. In slightly higher demand than assistants are.

Job Responsibilities of a Dental Hygienist vs Assistant

Dental assistants have fewer responsibilities dealing directly with treatment procedures. They are in charge of patient scheduling; sterilizing, cleaning and setting up the proper tools for dental procedures; maintaining patient records; and other administrative duties in the dentist's office.

Dental hygienists have greater responsibility for patient care and treatment. They are usually required to be licensed with the dental association in their state or country. The most common job of a dental hygienist is preventive services like prophylaxis, or cleaning of teeth, scaling, and root planing. Hygienists also take X-rays, do periodontal charting, and perform fluoride treatments. Some hygienists may even be licensed to administer local anesthesia. In some countries like Canada, dental hygienists are allowed to set up a private practice and offer preventive care services.[1]

This is a great interview with a dental hygienist; she describes her typical day at work, her role and responsibilities, the best and worst parts of the job, and educational and training requirements to become a dental hygienist.

Salary of a Hygienist vs Dental Assistant

Dental assistants and hygienists are in high demand, as dentists increasingly employ both in an effort to see more patients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, both job roles have a faster-than-average job growth outlook through 2020, with hygienists in greater demand than assistants.

A major point of difference is that the median pay for a dental assistant is $34,500 a year compared to the annual median pay for a hygienist, which is $70,210. This difference in pay comes down to education and job requirements. Though schooling costs vary greatly by state and school, it will always cost more upfront to become a hygienist.

Highest paid areas

Dental assistants are paid the most in San Francisco, California; Nashua, New Hampshire; and Haverhill and North Andover, Massachusetts. Hygienists receive the best pay in San Francisco, Vallejo, and Santa Rosa, all of which are in California.

Educational Requirements

Educational requirements for dental assistants and hygienists vary by country and state. In the U.S., some states will allow assistants to learn through mentorship from an established assistant; other states require some form of certification or other education before assistants can begin to work. Hygienists must be licensed to practice and need at least an associate's degree in an accredited dental hygiene program; bachelor's degrees are rare but do exist.

Online courses may be available for both job roles. Later, externships or internships are required. For assistants, this on-the-job training may be their whole education, while hygienists are often required 100+ hours of interning after their degree, before they can practice. Hygienists study a variety of topics beyond those an assistant will encounter, including dental anatomy and physiology, nutrition, radiography, and periodontology.

References

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