Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant
• Educational requirements
• Length of training
• State requirements
Although they work in the same office and many people can’t tell the difference between the two, there are several differences between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant. Unlike in the past when a dental visit involved seeing a receptionist and a dentist, today patients also see dental assistants and dental hygienists. While some of their duties may seem to overlap, they’re generally each performing their duties. Here are five differences between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant.
Duties are a major difference between dental hygienists and dental assistants. When patients enter a dental office and are taken to the room where they’ll receive their dental care, it often seems like both the workers are doing the same thing, but they’re doing very different duties. The dental assistant does a lot of the clerical work, such as scheduling appointments, taking the patient’s medical history and going over insurance and billing.
The dental assistant also works alongside the dentist and hands tools to the dentist during the procedure. The dental hygienist does dental procedures, such as cleaning, applying fluorides and sealants, making impressions of teeth for dentures and taking x-rays. The dental hygienist also helps set up a dental treatment plan.
2. Educational Requirements
The educational requirements are probably the biggest difference between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant. Dental hygienists must complete at least an associate’s degree program, which takes two years to complete. However, it takes three years to become a dental hygienist because most colleges require the student to complete a one-year dental program in addition to the associate’s degree. Although some dental assistants may have an associate’s degree, it’s not always required. In some cases, the individual may not need a degree at all and may be trained on the job.
The decision to advance from a dental assistant to a dental hygienist often stems from the wage differences for the two professions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average annual wage for dental hygienists at $75,500 while dental assistants earned $39,770 as of May 2018. Dental hygienist wages ranged from $51,930 to $101,820 while dental assistant wages went from $26,940 to $54,800.
The average hourly wage nationwide for dental hygienists was $36.30 compared to the $19.12 earned hourly by dental assistants. Dental hygienists working in Alaska, which is the highest-paying state for dental hygienists, earned about $114,320. Dental assistants working in Minnesota, which is the highest-paying state for dental assistants, earned about $49,880.
4. Length of training
There is a big difference between the length of training it takes to become a dental hygienist versus how long it takes to become a dental assistant. Dental hygienist training takes three years to complete while dental assistant programs can be completed in as little as six months or up to a year. In many cases, the dental assistant will not require any specific training other than on-the-job training.
5. State Requirements
Dental hygienists are required to be licensed in all the states. To obtain licensure, the aspiring dental hygienist must complete the dental program, pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and pass a licensing exam in the state in which they intend to work. To maintain the dental hygienist license the candidate must complete continuing education requirements, which may also vary from state to state. Dental assistants do not need to be licensed or certified.
Visiting a good dentist today involves seeing not just the dentist but also the dental hygienist and dental assistant. With dental assistants and dental hygienists each providing their services, the dentist can work faster and help more patients. To fully appreciate what they provide means fully understanding the important differences between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant.