Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist?
To those outside the dental industry, a dental assistant and a dental hygienist seem interchangable. However, there are important distinctions between the two. If you are planning to enter either career field, you should understand the differences between a dental assistant and dental hygienist before you choose. You'll find that your job duties vary, as does the required education and training you'll need to undertake.
What you'll do: Dental assistants are typically responsible for the following tasks:
- Working closely with patients before, during and after procedures
- Assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
- Taking and developing x-rays
- Preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
- Taking impressions of patients' teeth for study casts (models of teeth)
- Teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies
- Performing office management
Degree you'll need to practice: Certificate or diploma
Median annual salary: $34,500*
What you'll do: In addition to some of the same duties as dental assistants, a dental hygienist often performs the following types of tasks:
- Collecting information about the patient's oral and medical health history
- Removing calculus, stains and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth
- 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
Degree you'll need: Associate's degree or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene
Median annual salary: $70,210*
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Dental Assistants; Dental Hygienists.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.