Dental Assisting vs Dental Hygiene

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As a dental assistant I can’t tell you how many times friends or family will say something like “I bet you get sick of cleaning people’s teeth all day.”

I don’t usually bother to correct them on the fact that I DONT clean teeth, the dental hygienist does. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the difference between the two jobs, so let’s set the record straight.

Dental Assisting:

Just as the name suggests, a dental assistant essentially assists the dentist, performing preparatory work, and breaking-down equipment after a patient’s visit. The duties of a dental assistant can vary based on location as well as dentist’s office they work. Some of the most common duties of a dental assistant are to:

  • Lay out and disinfect tools and instruments for dentists
  • Collect the dental records of a patient
  • Give the dentist different instruments while they are performing a procedure
  • Educate the patient on proper care for their teeth

Dental assistants may also be responsible for preparing different types of materials used by the dentists, such as cement, anesthetics, impression materials, and even x-ray machines. At the same time, these professionals may also perform administrative and office management tasks, such as ordering dental supplies and patient billing.


Dental Hygiene:

On the other hand, dental hygienists perform tasks that are more independent and advanced. Dental hygienists essentially clean teeth, examine patients for various oral diseases, and provide the patient with many other types of preventative dental care services. Dental hygienists are also responsible for educating patients on how they should maintain and improve their oral health. Some of the most common duties of a dental hygienist are:

  • Removing soft and hard deposits from a patient’s teeth
  • Polishing a patient’s teeth
  • Utilizing multiple tools to remove stains, plaque, and tartar
  • Removing dressings and sutures
  • Administering local anesthetics
  • Charting patient’s dental conditions for the dentist
  • Making molds of teeth

In addition, dental hygienists may also be required to develop x-ray film. However, several of these tasks will vary based on the individual state’s laws.

Another huge difference in the career’s is education required. Dental hygiene programs are typically offered at two-year and four-year schools, and are often highly competitive. Dental hygienists are also required to have an associate’s degree in dental hygiene at a minimum. Every state requires the dental hygienist to be licensed and to have graduated from one of these programs to practice.

There are several different paths a student can take to become a dental assistant. While some states require the individual to graduate from an accredited program and pass a state exam, other states have few formal education requirements. Consequently, becoming a dental assistant requires less time in school, and significantly less cost.


If you are interested in becoming a dental hygienist, a great place to start is by becoming a dental assistant. You can get experience and knowledge in the field while you complete your hygiene education.


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