Career options in the medical field often have extremely similar names but the job descriptions do vary. This is especially true in the field of dentistry. You have options like dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists and many others. But each of these jobs varies in education requirements, job descriptions, salaries, working hours and a few other aspects. Let’s explore the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist.
In broad terms, a dental hygienist is given a better salary and more independence. On the other hand, a dental assistant is an assistant of sorts to the dentist.
A dental assistant works with the patient before and after the surgery. They also assist the dentist in various procedures and help prepare the patient for them. Besides this, a dental assistant is tasked with preparing for an X-ray or sometimes taking them. These assistants like any other medical ones also advise the patients on taking care of their teeth. At the same time, they manage the office. Sometimes they are required to sterilize the medical equipment or even study the cast of a patient’s teeth.
A dental hygienist does everything a dental assistant does. However, they also have some added responsibilities. They clean a patient’s teeth and deal with some minor problems. They are supposed to take the patient’s oral medical history and report it to the dentist for evaluation. They can deal with some minor internal injuries, remove sutures and apply dressings. Their duties also include applying preventive creams on patients’ teeth and monitoring their progress.
A dental assistant is essentially someone who is trying to learn from a professional. So, the education requirements from them aren’t too high. All they need is a diploma or a certificate in dental hygiene. After this, they can choose to get a degree (associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s) and become a dental hygienist. They can also try to become a full-fledged dentist after earning a doctorate.
A dental hygienist, on the other hand, is required to have a post-high school degree. If they choose to go for an associate’s degree (the most popular choice), it can take about 2-3 years to before giving the licensure exam. After getting licensed, they can opt to get specialized in pediatrics or any other field.
Dental assistants get a mean salary of about $35,000 with a potential rise of up to $40,00 with experience.
Dental hygienists, on the other hand, get paid twice as much. Their mean salary is around $71,000. However, experience doesn’t seem to affect this figure all that much.
Seattle seems to be the highest paying location for both these jobs.
Both jobs have a high growth rate of above 18%. This is due to the current research being done in integrating general and dental health. Thus, more dental professionals will be required towards 2020.
As you can probably understand, a dental assistant is just a dental hygienist in training. There is a significant difference in job duties, salaries and education, but otherwise, they are similar in other aspects. So, if you want to become a dental hygienist, you know where to start from now!