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Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist:
What's the Difference?

Behind every successful dentist stands a dedicated team that ensures the office works seamlessly through their contributions. With the primary dentist often owning the business, the rest of the team members may be overlooked, but the role they play is crucial.

Two of these in particular are dental assistants and dental hygienists. While they remain synonymous with each other in many patients’ minds, they play unique roles which set them apart. Influencing your visit through different methods.

Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist

The Dental Assistant

Dental assistants perform a range of tasks, varying from ensuring patients are comfortable during their checkup or procedure to administrative work like scheduling appointments and handling payments.

Their role is very experience focused, as they set the tone of the environment as soon as they step foot in the office for their appointment. To use more concrete examples, dental assistants are typically responsible for performing the following tasks;

  • Leading patients to their designated chair and ensuring their comfort throughout the appointment’s duration.
  • Ensuring clinical work areas are adequate before a procedure.
  • Sterilizing dental instruments before use.
  • Assisting the dentist by handing them instruments and materials during procedures.
  • Setting up X-rays.
  • Drying patients’ mouths throughout the procedure with suction hoses.
  • Completing laboratory duties.
  • Processing and presenting payments to patients afterwards.
  • Updating patients records and ensure everything is up to date.
  • Scheduling appointments with patients.

Their role, operating primarily in the background, is focused on contributing towards the more hands-on approaches exercised by hygienists and dentists. This cannot go under looked, as they provide substantial assistance to alleviate the hygienist or dentist and ultimately contribute to a more seamless experience for all.

Dental Assistants typically require a one or two-year vocational program to be certified in most states, however, some are educated through on-job training which some states allow as well. This occupation provides a great opportunity for aspiring hygienists or dentists to get a first-hand look of what the industry entails!

The Dental Hygienist

This role is more closely connected to the role of an actual dentist. As it consists of directly relaying knowledge into action onto a patient’s smile. The main role of a dental hygienist is cleaning and polishing a patient’s teeth, with their work touching the smile substantially more than that of an assistant.

Operating in such close proximity to a patient’s teeth, the hygienist is responsible for closely examining a patient’s smile and delivering the crucial information they’ve gathered to a dentist. Hygienists are responsible for the following actions;

  • Removing plaque and tartar buildup from the teeth, as well as stains!
  • Monitoring the health of a patient’s oral anatomy and generating reports for the dentist.
  • Applying sealants and fluoride treatments on the teeth.
  • Performing and develop X-rays.
  • Informing and educating patients on proper oral care habits, including tips on how to improve their own smile specifically.
  • Documenting the records of patients and their prescribed treatment plans as advised by the dentist.

The hygienist’s role is intimately tied to that of an actual dentist, as they require a 3-year associate’s degree to become certified. Often acting as instruments to promote dental knowledge for patients, cleanse their smile professionally, and provide the patient with a positive experience as a representative for the practice’s owner (typically the dentist themselves).

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