If a person is not familiar with how the dental industry works and all of its ins and outs, they may be under the false belief that a dental hygienist and a dental assistant do the same job. In reality, this perception could not be more false. While the differences between the two professions may seem subtle from the outside looking in, there are several very important distinctions to be made between each.
For those who want to learn about the dental field or are planning a career as either a hygienist or assistant, it is crucial to understand all of the differences, so that an informed decision can be made. Not only do the job duties vary significantly, but the compensation does as well. The following is a comparison and contrast of the two professions.
A dental assistant is responsible for certain tasks within the dentist’s establishment. They are the people who work closely with the dentist’s patients before the appointment begins, during the appointment (and any procedures that the patient may require) and after all of the dentist’s work has been done.
They often serve as an extension of the dentist during procedures, providing help with necessary. Should the dentist require certain tools in order to complete a procedure, the dental assistant is typically tasked with obtaining them.
If a patient is in need of X-rays, then the dental assistant will not only take them, but develop them, as well. This is a pivotal task in any medical establishment. They are also responsible for the preparation of any equipment the dentist may need when examining the teeth.
When the equipment needs to be sterilized prior to a procedure or appointment, this is also the duty of the dental assistant. When a patient’s teeth need to be molded for braces or other oral installations, the assistant takes the impressions of their teeth.
Patients who are struggling with basic oral hygienic care are advised by the dental assistant about the proper brushing and flossing methods. They are also responsible for managing the office and handling any related duties.
In order to become a dental assistant, the person must obtain a certificate or a diploma, whichever is required by the particular dentist that they wish to work for. Otherwise, they will have no ability to practice in a dentist’s office. The salary for a dental assistant is roughly $34,000 per year, but this rate can rise and fall depending on the economy of the region.
A dental hygienist’s job is much more taxing than a dental assistant’s. Not only do they take care of many of the same duties as a dental assistant, but they also have other important responsibilities to handle on a day to day basis.
The dental hygienist works directly with the patient by collecting their medical history and analyzing it to ensure that the dentist does not perform any procedures or give them any sort of anesthetic that could have an adverse effect on their overall health.
The surface of the patient’s teeth is also worked on by the dental hygienist. They remove all of the hard and soft deposits that have been allowed to accumulate inside of the mouth over the course of time. Plaque, stains and calculus are scraped off by the hygienist. Every surface area of the teeth is taken care of.
Much like the dental assistant, a dental hygienist also takes molds of the patient’s teeth so that they can be analyzed for further courses of treatment. These molds are valuable to a dentist, as they enable them to cater to a patient’s specific needs.
A patient’s dental conditions must be charted for the dentist by the dental assistant. This gives the dentist the information that they need in order to recommend certain treatments and use the patient’s history as a baseline for their evaluations. As a patient’s dental condition changes, the need for proper charting increases dramatically.
Preventive medicine is also a big part of a dental hygienist’s daily duties. Tooth decay is a huge problem in the majority of dental patients, so the hygienist will apply preventatives to the teeth to keep decay from setting in. They also add fluoride to increase the whiteness of the teeth.
Should the patient require a painful procedure, it is the dental hygienist’s responsibility to apply any needed anesthesia. They also aid the patient after a procedure by taking off all of the dressings and removing any sutures.
A person who is looking to become a dental hygienist will need to get at least an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Many dentist’s offices go one step further, requiring any hygienist they hire to obtain a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. The extra schooling pays off, as a dental hygienist’s median salary falls into the $70,000 range, twice as much as a dental assistant.
As you can see, there are a great number of differences between the dental assistant and the dental hygienist, no matter how similar their jobs appear to be from the outside looking in. A dental hygienist has a far greater level of responsibility on a daily basis and is required to spend more time receiving a secondary education than an assistant. This difference is most strongly reflected in their overall salaries, as the hygienist is typically paid significantly more than an assistant. The salary information provided is not iron clad, it is based upon the national average for each position.