A detailed comparison of dental assistants and dental hygienists

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If you stay conscious about your dental health, we are writing this for you. This article is for letting people have a clear perception of the main difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist, their definitions, main duties, workplaces, income, and the required education. We will also discuss the process of licensing and certification, which leads a dental assistant or a hygienist to practice their profession.

Are these the alternative names of a dentist?

Most of the people ask what is the main difference between a dental assistant and dental hygienist, and a lot of them even confuse them with the dentists. They do not know that the jobs, designations, and duties of dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists are distinct, and hold their individual importance where they stand. Read to the end and all of your misconceptions will be busted. 

What is the main difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

Humanity has seen an era where no one knew the importance of oral health, and its maintenance. People used to visit a dentist whenever they had reached the tail end of some chronic clinical condition, coming home back after losing a tooth or two. Nevertheless, the dental health sector is now emerging as many people are getting to be aware of oral hygiene, and the significance to maintain it. 

Let’s discuss the differences by grabbing a thorough idea about the whole thing, step by step:

Let’s define Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist first

A Dental assistant refers to a person who performs several tasks associated with patients’ care and clinical administration. He is not involved in any clinical diagnostics and treatment sessions. While, a Dental hygienist is supposed to conduct a clinical examination on patients’ dental health, followed by cleaning and polishing their teeth and educating them on the suitable dental health practices they need to follow. 

What typical responsibilities do Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist need to fulfill?

Besides the difference between the dental assistant and dental hygienist, both of them hold the purpose to take care of your dental health. There are some duties a dental assistant has to perform:

  • He has to sterilize all of the dental instruments.
  • He has to ensure the patients’ comfort by leading them to the dental chair.
  • He has to supervise and govern the preparation of the clinical work area required for efficiently performing various dental procedures.
  • During the dental procedures, he has to hand over the instruments to the dentist.
  • He has to complete all of the tasks in the testing laboratory.
  • He has to perform the processing of X-rays. 
  • He has to dry the mouths of the patients by using suction hoses.
  • He has to keep the patients’ clinical records updated. 
  • He is the one who schedules your dentist’s appointment.
  • He has to provide assistance to the patients regarding billing and payment.

Now let’s have a look on what is the role of the dental hygienists in taking care of your oral health. The following are some major tasks performed by dental hygienists:

  • Removal of tartar, plaque, and teeth stains
  • Application of sealants and treating the teeth with fluoride treatments for decay prevention
  • Development of dental X-rays
  • Clinical assessment of patients’ oral health and generating the test reports
  • Documentation of personal records and prescriptions of the patients
  • Educating patients about the importance of oral hygiene (proper brushing/ flossing)
  • Delivering information on choosing the best oral hygiene tools (toothbrushes etc.)

How much are they Qualified?

One can claim to be a professional dental assistant if they have completed one or two-year vocational programs on dental assistance, which is accredited by CODA. Formal education is replaced by internships in some states. Whereas, being a dental hygienist requires the completion of an associate degree program on dental health, which takes no longer than 2 years to complete. More than 300 programs are offered which are accredited by CODA.

Work environments

Talking about the workplaces where the dental assistants and dental hygienists have to provide their services, are actually the same. Though the tasks they perform are different from each other. They work cooperatively in the same environments. A lot of coordination is required to keep the administration and the clinical proceedings running smoothly and progressively. These dental health enthusiasts show their skills in:

  • Public dental health care centers
  • Private dental care clinics
  • Dental physicians or surgeons’ clinics

How much money do they earn?

Besides providing a great service to humanity, these dental activists work to make a living. If someone is reading this to know what median salary the dental assistants and hygienists get, here is a careful estimate:

  • Dental assistant: More than $38,000 per year
  • Dental hygienist: More than $74,000 per year

The reason why dental hygienists earn more is they go through a tough period of acquiring professional education as compared to dental assistants and the complexity and sensitivity of tasks they perform in the dental health centers are higher. 

Licensing and certification

For dental assistants: Most of the states accept you as a dental assistant and hire you if you hold the following valid license and certifications:

  • Nationally recognized certification, issued by DANB (Dental Assisting National Board)
  • CPR certification

For dental hygienists: Most of the states ask for licensure to employ dental hygienists. The board of examination of each state determines which type of certification is accepted. One of the certification which is acceptable in most of the states is:

  • CPR certification


  • For dental assistants
  1. Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)
  2. Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)
  3. American Red Cross CPR certification course
  • For dental hygienists
  1. Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)
  2. States’ Board of Examiners
  3. American Red Cross CPR certification course

Before you leave!

In the end, we hope that we have addressed all the queries and ambiguities running in your mind about the difference between the dental assistants and dental hygienists. The final words would be in appreciation of both of the efficient service providers regarding the oral hygiene. The assistants have contact with the patients from the moment they get an appointment and walk-in for their examination and treatments. They also play an active role in assisting the dentists to perform dental health procedures. They are the right hands of dentists as they ensure their convenience at each step of a practical dental health process. On the other hand, the duty of dental hygienists require them to be a bit more skillful as they are in direct contact with the patients and are a part of the practical accomplishment of any clinical procedure. They should know the mechanics of instruments, their maintenance, as well as the dental health basics. 

Both of the dental health enthusiasts are important in terms of their own domain of tasks and duties and should get a lot of respect without any discrimination, as they are one of the reasons people know about the importance of oral health and don’t freak out just by thinking about the complex and painful dental health procedures.