To those outside the dental industry, the terms dental assistant and dental hygienist may seem interchangeable. However, there are major differences between the two careers including daily tasks, education, and pay.
Before enrolling in a dental assistant program or dental hygienist classes, it is important to understand the differences between the two careers.
To become a dental assistant, enroll in a dental assistance program. You could complete your program in as few as 10 months. Some states require dental assistants to be registered or licensed. You can find your state requirements on Dental Assisting National Board’s website.
You will perform prep work and assist with other duties in the office. Some of these duties include:
- Disinfecting and laying out instruments for the dentist
- Obtaining a patient's dental records
- Handing instruments to the dentists during patient procedures
- Educating patients on how to care for their teeth
Dental assistants may also help assist the dentist with x-ray machines, impression materials, and anesthetics. Other common duties include billing patients, keeping track of payments, and ordering dental supplies.
No matter which state you work in, you'll be required to have at least an associate degree in dental hygiene in order to work as a hygienist. Training can be completed in approximately two years. Every state requires you to be licensed. You will perform different tasks than dental assistants and are permitted to work more independently.
Duties you'll perform that will be covered within your schooling include:
- Polishing a patient’s teeth
- Removing deposits from teeth
- Removing tartar, plaque, and stains
- Developing x-ray film
Other tasks may vary by state but can include administering anesthetics and applying fillings.
Pick What’s Right For You
There is a demand for both career paths. Dental hygienists are predicted to grow by 9 percent by 2031, and dental assistants openings will grow by 8 percent. Take the time to figure out which position in the dental industry you would prefer, and decide what career path best suits you. Then, find a school near you to get started on your education.