What’s the Difference Between a Dental Assistant and a Dental Hygienist?

HealthcareSeptember 29, 2016

So, you want to work in a dental office, but aren’t really sure if you should prepare to become a dental assistant or a dental hygienist. Is there a difference between the two?


Both dental assistants and dental hygienists work under the supervision of dentists; however, their roles vary significantly according to the jobs they perform and their interaction with patients. Perhaps the biggest difference is that dental assistants provide direct aid to dentists, while hygienist often work one-on-one with patients with less supervision.

Roles of a Dental Assistant and a Dental Hygienist

Dental assistants obtain patient records, prepare materials such as instruments, x-rays machines, anesthetics, etc. for the dentist, and assist during dental procedures. They may be asked to apply topical anesthetic, fluoride and sealant applications, and perform coronal polishing, as well as billing, ordering supplies and some secretarial work.


Dental hygienists typically perform tasks that are more independent and advanced than dental assistants. Duties generally involve polishing teeth, removing deposits from teeth, along with tartar, plaque and stains, and may be asked to develop x-rays. Depending on the state in which a hygienist is working, other tasks may be added to their job description.


Simply put, you would see dentists/dental assistants when you have an appointment to see the dentist for a routine examination or to address a dental problem such as a cavity, while you would see dental hygienists for a cleaning or for other routine preventative care.

Certification Differences Between a Dental Hygienist and a Dental Assistant

Licensure requirements for each career vary by state.  According to the BLS, both professions are projected to grow by 18% or more over the next decade. However, there is usually a key difference in education requirements for the two. Becoming a dental assistant usually requires completion of a certificate or diploma program, while most dental hygienists must earn an associate’s degree.


Because they usually work independently and because they have a higher degree of education, dental hygienists tend to earn higher salaries…sometimes as much as twice as much as a dental assistant in some circumstances. And, for 2016, Money-U.S. News & World Report ranks dental hygienist at #2 for Best Health Care Support Jobs and in the Top Third of the “100 Best Jobs” in America. The profession gets top marks for work-life balance, future growth, and stress.

Start Your Dental Assisting or Dental Hygienist Career Today

As demand continues to increase for the dental services provided by both professions, the need for graduates from Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting is expected to grow.


Fortis offers Dental Assistant and Dental Hygiene education and training at campuses in more than a dozen states across the country. To learn more and to see which dental career may be a good choice for you, contact us today! 

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