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Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist – What is the Difference?

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Most people think that Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienist do basically the same jobs.  In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Both jobs are extremely important, but the tasks performed are very different.

Typical Job Duties of a Dental Assistant

The key to understanding the role of a Dental Assistant is in the name itself, “assistant”. Generally the Dental Assistant’s main task is to assist the Dentist with just about anything in the office.  Duties will vary widely from office to office, and in many offices Dental Assistants may specialize in specific jobs and will never do some of the task commonly performed by Dental Assistants.dental hygienist vs dental assistant

According to Monster.com, the job responsibilities of a Dental Assistant are as follows:

  • Prepares treatment room for patient by following prescribed procedures and protocols.
  • Prepares patient for dental treatment by welcoming, comforting, seating, and draping patient.
  • Provides information to patients and employees by answering questions and requests.
  • Provides instrumentation by sterilizing and delivering instruments to treatment area; positioning instruments for dentist’s access; suctioning; passing instruments.
  • Provides materials by selecting, mixing, and placing materials on instruments and in the patient’s mouth.
  • Provides diagnostic information by exposing and developing radiographic studies; pouring, trimming, and polishing study casts.
  • Maintains patient appearance and ability to masticate by fabricating temporary restorations; cleaning and polishing removable appliances.
  • Helps dentist manage dental and medical emergencies by maintaining CPR certification, emergency drug and oxygen supply, and emergency telephone directory.
  • Educates patients by giving oral hygiene, plaque control, and postoperative instructions.
  • Documents dental care services by charting in patient records.
  • Maintains patient confidence and protects operations by keeping information confidential.
  • Maintains safe and clean working environment by complying with procedures, rules, and regulations.
  • Protects patients and employees by adhering to infection-control policies and protocols.
  • Ensures operation of dental equipment by completing preventive maintenance requirements; following manufacturer’s instructions; troubleshooting malfunctions; calling for repairs; maintaining equipment inventories; evaluating new equipment and techniques.
  • Maintains dental supplies inventory by checking stock to determine inventory level; anticipating needed supplies; placing and expediting orders for supplies; verifying receipt of supplies.
  • Conserves dental resources by using equipment and supplies as needed to accomplish job results.
  • Maintains professional and technical knowledge by attending educational workshops; reviewing professional publications; establishing personal networks; participating in professional societies.
  • Contributes to team effort by accomplishing related results as needed.

Typical Job Duties of a Dental Hygienist

dental assistant vs dental hygienistWhere Dental Assistants primarily perform support tasks and assist the dentist while he or she performs procedures, a Dental Hygienist is responsible for performing many of the common procedures we have all had done in a dental office.  We have all had our teeth cleaned, and that is one of the most common duties of a Dental Hygienist.  Below is a full list of Dental Hygienist job duties from Monster.com:

  • Prepares treatment room for patient by adhering to prescribed procedures and protocols.
  • Prepares patient for dental hygiene treatment by welcoming, soothing, seating, and draping patient.
  • Provides information to patients and employees by answering questions and requests.
  • Maintains instrumentation for dental hygiene treatment by sharpening, sterilizing, and selecting instruments.
  • Selects materials and equipment for dental hygiene visit by evaluating patient’s oral health.
  • Completes dental prophylaxis by cleaning deposits and stains from teeth and from beneath gum margins.
  • Detects disease by completing oral cancer screening; feeling and visually examining gums; using probes to locate periodontal disease and to assess levels of recession; exposing and developing radiographic studies.
  • Arrests dental decay by applying fluorides and other cavity- preventing agents.
  • Maintains patient appearance and ability to masticate by fabricating temporary restorations; cleaning and polishing removable appliances; placing, carving, and finishing amalgam restorations; removing cement from crowns and bridges.
  • Helps dentist manage dental and medical emergencies by maintaining CPR certification, emergency drugs and oxygen supply, and directory of emergency numbers.
  • Educates patients by giving oral hygiene and plaque control instructions and postoperative instructions; providing reminders of time of next dental hygiene visit.
  • Documents dental hygiene services by recording vital signs and medical and dental histories; charting in patient records.
  • Maintains patient confidence and protects operations by keeping information confidential.
  • Maintains safe and clean working environment by complying with procedures, rules, and regulations.
  • Protects patients and employees by adhering to infection-control policies and protocols.
  • Ensures operation of dental equipment by completing preventive maintenance requirements; following manufacturer’s instructions; troubleshooting malfunctions; calling for repairs; maintaining equipment inventories; evaluating new equipment and techniques.
  • Maintains dental supplies inventory by checking stock to determine inventory level; anticipating needed supplies; placing and expediting orders for supplies; verifying receipt of supplies.
  • Conserves dental resources by using equipment and supplies as needed to accomplish job results.
  • Maintains professional and technical knowledge by attending educational workshops; reviewing professional publications; establishing personal networks; participating in professional societies.
  • Contributes to team effort by accomplishing related results as needed.

What is the Difference Between Dental Hygienists and Dental Assistants Salaries?

This is where you really see the difference between Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists.  The tables below are taken from Careerinfonet.org and are based on data acquired from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.  As of May 2012, Dental Hygienists typically earn salaries that are double those of Dental Assistants.  However, you must keep in mind the additional training and education required to become a Dental Hygienist.  It is actually quite common for a person to complete Dental Assistant training, then begin taking classes toward becoming a Hygienist while working in a Dentists office.

Dental Hygienist Salary Data

Location Pay
Period
2012
10% 25% Median 75% 90%
United States Hourly $22.38 $27.95 $33.75 $40.66 $46.29
Yearly $46,600 $58,100 $70,200 $84,600 $96,300

Dental Assistant Salary Data

Location Pay
Period
2012
10% 25% Median 75% 90%
United States Hourly $11.32 $13.64 $16.59 $19.86 $22.87
Yearly $23,500 $28,400 $34,500 $41,300 $47,600

 

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