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

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Home » Blog » Dental Assistant vs. Hygienist

Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff

Contributing writer

Dental assistants and dental hygienists do many of the same things from day to day, such as taking and developing X-rays and teaching patients about proper oral care. But they are not different names for the same job.

Here’s a breakdown of some key differences between dental assistants vs. dental hygienists.

What Are the Differences?

Job Duties

Dental Assistants

  • Prepare patients for treatment
  • Clean instruments and equipment
  • Assist dentists during procedures
  • Help with office management, including billing, record-keeping, and insurance paperwork

Dental Hygienists

  • Clean patients’ teeth
  • Administer local anesthetics
  • Remove sutures and dressings
  • Chart patients’ dental conditions for the dentist
  • Apply preventive treatments such as fluoride
  • Examine teeth and gums and collect information about patients’ oral and medical health history

Education

Dental Assistants

  • Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program with a certificate or diploma (nine months to a year). Some schools offer two-year associate’s degree dental assisting programs, which include general education classes.

Dental Hygienists

  • Dental hygienists usually need an associate’s degree (two years) to practice. Other less common options include certificates (a year or less), bachelor’s degree (four years) and master’s degrees (two years). (Years required to complete degree are based on full-time study.)

Licensing and Certification

Dental Assistants

  • Most dental assistants who choose to become nationally certified take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. To take the exam, you need to graduate from an accredited training program or complete two years of full-time work as a dental assistant.

Dental Hygienists

  • Dental hygienists must be licensed by the state where they want to practice. To qualify, you need to graduate from an accredited training program and pass a regional or state clinical exam.

Median Annual Salaries

Education, experience, and location may play a factor in your salary for any career. Take a look at median annual salaries, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for dental assistants and hygienists:

Median Annual Salaries Cited by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020


Dental Assistants

$41,180

Dental Hygienists

$77,090

Job Growth

Based on the national average for all jobs resting at 8% through 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Dental Assistants

11%

Dental Hygienists

11%

Next Steps

Dental Assistants

  • Many dental assistants go back to school to get a dental hygienist degree.

Dental Hygienists

  • With a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you can move up to research, teaching, or clinical practice in public or school health programs.