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

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Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff

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

Dental Hygienists

  • Prepare patients for treatment
  • Clean patients’ teeth and apply preventive treatments
  • Clean instruments and equipment
  • Administer local anesthetics
  • Assist dentist during procedures
  • Remove sutures and dressings
  • Help with office management, including billing, record-keeping, and insurance paperwork
  • Examine teeth and gums, collect information about patients’ oral and medical health history, and chart patients’ dental conditions for the dentist

Education


Dental Assistants

Dental Hygienists

  • 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 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

Dental Hygienists

  • 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 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:

Dental Assistants

National data

Median Salary: $38,660

Projected job growth: 11.2%

10th Percentile: $29,580

25th Percentile: $37,000

75th Percentile: $47,580

90th Percentile: $59,540

Projected job growth: 11.2%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $47,720 $37,610 $61,000
Alabama $36,300 $28,160 $47,360
Arkansas $36,450 $28,640 $44,980
Arizona $39,480 $30,100 $48,190
California $47,140 $36,860 $60,460
Colorado $46,170 $29,990 $60,100
Connecticut $47,190 $37,070 $60,110
District of Columbia $47,550 $31,200 $61,040
Delaware $45,110 $30,150 $61,150
Florida $37,790 $29,670 $48,110
Georgia $37,460 $29,540 $47,290
Hawaii $37,430 $29,110 $47,230
Iowa $46,230 $36,110 $60,010
Idaho $37,100 $29,280 $46,780
Illinois $43,220 $29,570 $55,090
Indiana $38,280 $29,460 $56,500
Kansas $37,490 $29,010 $47,660
Kentucky $37,080 $28,840 $47,890
Louisiana $30,280 $23,890 $46,830
Massachusetts $48,000 $37,420 $61,870
Maryland $46,830 $29,730 $60,420
Maine $46,630 $36,690 $49,340
Michigan $37,640 $29,380 $47,930
Minnesota $49,790 $45,460 $61,170
Missouri $37,470 $29,490 $47,580
Mississippi $30,820 $23,360 $58,390
Montana $37,220 $29,790 $47,950
North Carolina $45,810 $35,670 $59,890
North Dakota $47,660 $37,180 $60,280
Nebraska $38,100 $35,350 $47,550
New Hampshire $47,600 $38,290 $60,670
New Jersey $46,970 $31,180 $57,680
New Mexico $37,250 $29,450 $47,620
Nevada $37,140 $29,150 $48,120
New York $47,250 $36,340 $60,550
Ohio $39,040 $29,740 $60,200
Oklahoma $37,520 $29,470 $47,580
Oregon $47,850 $37,240 $60,220
Pennsylvania $44,780 $29,740 $60,850
Rhode Island $47,400 $37,060 $60,110
South Carolina $38,040 $29,460 $48,480
South Dakota $45,530 $30,390 $48,070
Tennessee $37,760 $29,160 $48,150
Texas $37,360 $28,080 $47,470
Utah $36,810 $29,250 $38,220
Virginia $38,450 $29,710 $61,060
Vermont $46,910 $36,810 $59,300
Washington $46,640 $35,930 $60,940
Wisconsin $39,090 $31,030 $49,040
West Virginia $35,970 $28,810 $48,230
Wyoming $38,410 $29,360 $48,510

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Dental Hygienists

National data

Median Salary: $77,810

Projected job growth: 11.2%

10th Percentile: $60,100

25th Percentile: $73,540

75th Percentile: $98,260

90th Percentile: $100,200

Projected job growth: 11.2%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $125,840 $99,030 $127,970
Alabama $48,540 $44,690 $61,560
Arkansas $77,360 $51,750 $96,520
Arizona $78,140 $74,590 $99,620
California $99,440 $98,180 $126,900
Colorado $96,510 $61,790 $100,600
Connecticut $94,960 $76,450 $99,240
District of Columbia $78,960 $60,110 $125,800
Delaware $80,080 $75,440 $98,030
Florida $77,180 $59,840 $79,120
Georgia $76,240 $59,790 $95,100
Hawaii $77,730 $61,340 $101,260
Iowa $77,030 $61,330 $80,220
Idaho $77,460 $57,760 $96,690
Illinois $77,270 $60,840 $98,920
Indiana $77,030 $59,640 $95,740
Kansas $75,700 $60,550 $79,360
Kentucky $61,340 $47,430 $76,050
Louisiana $76,890 $59,640 $81,390
Massachusetts $95,360 $74,720 $100,200
Maryland $98,360 $61,070 $99,680
Maine $75,190 $59,640 $81,410
Michigan $62,180 $59,280 $78,070
Minnesota $77,810 $69,700 $97,700
Missouri $76,930 $60,690 $83,990
Mississippi $59,440 $39,490 $76,990
Montana $77,920 $74,840 $98,110
North Carolina $76,820 $59,010 $81,030
North Dakota $75,440 $60,760 $78,670
Nebraska $76,760 $60,830 $81,570
New Hampshire $78,340 $66,080 $99,010
New Jersey $79,490 $77,450 $100,780
New Mexico $79,690 $65,260 $100,120
Nevada $97,340 $60,840 $99,420
New York $78,470 $60,900 $99,440
Ohio $76,820 $59,910 $79,760
Oklahoma $79,380 $48,400 $99,650
Oregon $98,260 $77,030 $113,710
Pennsylvania $76,180 $48,310 $98,560
Rhode Island $77,980 $76,840 $78,270
South Carolina $62,500 $47,160 $80,450
South Dakota $76,550 $60,870 $81,410
Tennessee $75,220 $43,540 $81,720
Texas $77,600 $60,250 $94,690
Utah $77,510 $60,680 $78,700
Virginia $89,930 $48,240 $99,330
Vermont $76,410 $61,790 $77,800
Washington $99,940 $94,580 $126,830
Wisconsin $76,110 $60,700 $80,450
West Virginia $60,430 $45,770 $77,550
Wyoming $77,270 $47,850 $101,060

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

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%

What’s Next?


  • 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.