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What’s the Difference Between a Dental Assistant & Dental Hygienist?

They both play support roles in dental offices, but there are differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists.

two dental professionals using tools on patients mouth
Home » Blog » Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff
Contributing writer

To those outside the dental industry, a dental assistant and a dental hygienist seem interchangeable. 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.

Dental Assistants

  • 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: $41,180

Dental Hygienists

  • 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: $77,090

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook.

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.