A dental hygienist and a dental assistant stand side by side in a dental office and smile at the camera

The Real Difference Between Dental Hygienists and Dental Assistants

When you go to a dental appointment, you may be greeted by a dental assistant or a dental hygienist. A dental hygienist has more training and is capable of performing more services than a dental assistant. Dental hygienists are usually capable of performing the same services provided by dental assistants. However, dental assistants cannot provide the same services that are offered from dental hygienists. You will likely find both dental assistants and dental hygienists in some offices. In contrast, smaller offices may require that the dental hygienist perform duties that are traditionally performed by a dental assistant and a receptionist.

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants usually have licenses and formal training with an associate’s degree. However, the requirements differ according to specific locations. The dental assistants usually sterilize instruments, order supplies, seat patients, and complete information on charts. The assistant may also help the dentist during treatments, which includes passing instruments and mixing dental materials. The role of the dental assistant usually entails administrative functions and support functions, such as preparing the patients for treatments or providing information to the patients.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists are licensed and usually have an associate’s degree as well. The traditional duties include performing services for examinations, cleaning teeth, and providing education to patients. The dental hygienists can also perform the duties of the dental assistant, such as holding suction devices while the dentist performs a treatment. Periodontists usually hire dental hygienists to clean teeth, which is the primary treatment for controlling periodontal disease.

Similarities and Differences

Both dental assistants and dental hygienists may seat patients, order supplies, prepare patients for treatments, and provide education about treatments to patients. However, the dental hygienist has more training and is licensed to perform treatments that cannot be performed by a dental assistant, such as cleaning teeth. You may be confused by the different roles because a dentist will only hire enough employees to provide sufficient care for the patients, which could force a dental hygienist to also perform the duties of a dental assistant.

Reasons for Hiring a Dental Hygienist or Dental Assistant

Large offices may have two dentists, dental clerks for appointments, dental assistants, and dental hygienists. A private practice may have a severely limited number of patients, which would force the dentist to control costs by hiring only one employee. Therefore, the dental hygienist would be the perfect choice because a dental hygienist can perform several services. Dental hygienists usually earn twice as much as dental assistants, which may force the dentist to perform more services and to reduce costs by only hiring a dental assistant.

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