Have you been to the dentist recently? The American Dental Association recommends that people visit the dentist frequently. These visits should be individualized by your dentist. Some people may need to see their dentist yearly, and others may benefit from 6 months or less. An individualized approach is best when it comes to oral health. At your last dental visit you may have noticed several people busy around the office. There was probably a receptionist and, of course, a dentist. But there were also a few others who helped out during your visit – a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. So what is a dental assistant vs dental hygienist? Let’s take a closer look.
Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist
Dental assistants and dental hygienists have a few things in common. They both work closely with a dentist. They both help care for peoples teeth. They also help educate patients about oral health. They may appear similar, but there are actually many differences. A dental assistants main job is to assist the dentist. They can also help with a variety of office jobs. The main job of a dental hygienist is to clean teeth. They work directly with the patient while an assistant works more closely with the dentist. Let’s take an even closer look at a dental assistant vs dental hygienist.
Dental Assistant Responsibilities
A dental assistant can have many jobs in the office. Their work often starts before you even enter the office. A dental assistant will prepare the room before you arrive. This includes sterilizing all dental instruments and laying them out for the dentist. They are usually the first person to greet you once you are seated in a chair. They will take and develop x-rays before you see the dentist. They can also take impressions. During your appointment they will assist the dentist and pass instruments to him. The assistant will also prepare anesthetics, cement, and impression materials. The dental assistant can also help maintain dental records and patient health history. At the end of your appointment they can help with front office tasks like scheduling appointments and taking payments. Even after you have left the office a dental assistant is still busy. They will clean the room and prepare it for the next patient. They will also prepare any lab work and can help order dental supplies. In some states dental assistants can have advanced duties such as applying sealants and fluoride, topical anesthetic and coronal polishing. A dental assistants work is never done. They are always busy doing the many jobs it takes to keep a dental office running.
Dental Assistant Tasks and Duties
The exact tasks and duties of a dental assistant can vary from practice to practice. What you might be allowed to do as a dental assistant can also depend on the state where you work. Some of the day-to-day tasks a dental assistant performs include:
- Preparing exam rooms for patients by sterilizing instruments and equipment.
- Getting patients settled into the dental chair and taking basic dental history.
- Holding instruments and equipment during dental procedures and passing instruments to the dentist as required.
- Recording details of the procedure in a patient’s file.
- Scheduling appointments for follow-up with patients.
- Talking to patients about good oral hygiene.
- Preparing materials for dental impressions, depending on the state.
- Taking X-rays of the patient’s teeth, in some states.
- Reviewing X-rays to make sure they are clear.
- Polishing patient’s teeth, in some states.
- Applying topical anesthetic, in some states.
- Applying fluoride treatments, in some states.
Dental Hygienist Responsibilities
The responsibilities of a dental assistant vs dental hygienist are actually very different. While the dental assistant can have many jobs around the office, the dental hygienist has one main job. They focus on cleaning your teeth. A dental hygienist works one-on-one with you during a teeth cleaning. First they will review your dental and medical history. They will perform an exam of your mouth. Then they will work to clean your teeth. There are many techniques that can be used to clean teeth. They will use one or more of these to remove any deposits from your teeth. They will also clean off any plaque or tartar that has developed. Then they will polish and floss your teeth. Finally they will apply any fluoride treatments that are needed. Once your cleaning is finished the dentist will come in for his exam and evaluation.
Dental Hygienist Tasks and Duties
The tasks a dental hygienist performs typically focus on cleaning the patient’s teeth. The duties of a dental hygienist typically include:
- Removing plaque and tartar from a patient’s teeth using instruments such as an air-polishing device or a dental scaler.
- Polishing the teeth using a tool that is similar to an electric toothbrush.
- Taking X-rays of a patient’s teeth.
- Applying sealants to teeth to protect against cavities.
- Administering fluoride treatments to help strengthen teeth and reduce the risk of cavities.
- Discussing oral hygiene with patients and making recommendations to help them protect their teeth and gums.
- Measuring periodontal pockets to assess a patient’s risk of gum disease.
- Recommending dental products to patients, such as a certain type of toothpaste, toothbrush, or floss.
- Reviewing the condition of a patient’s mouth and discussing any concerns with a dentist.
- Recording the patient’s dental history and treatment plan in their file.
- Extracting primary teeth, in some states.
- Placing temporary restorations, such as dental crowns, in some states.
Dental Assistant vs. Hygienist Education Requirements
Dental assistants and dental hygienists differ when it comes to what they do in the dentist’s office, what their responsibilities are, and their education requirements. Training to become a dental hygienist takes longer than training to become a dental assistant. If you’re interested in becoming a hygienist, you typically need to enroll in an associate’s degree program at a community college. Some hygienists pursue bachelor’s degrees, which take even longer to complete.
Usually, an associate’s degree program lasts for three years. During a dental hygienist training program, you’ll receive classroom instruction and have the chance to work in a lab and clinical setting, getting hands-on training. After earning your degree, you’ll need to become licensed before you can start working as a hygienist. The licensing requirements vary by state but typically include passing both clinical and written exams.
The education requirements are less strict for dental assistants. Some assistants learn on the job, while others complete a career certificate program to learn the skills necessary for success. If you are interested in becoming a dental assistant, you can complete a training program in as little as 13 weeks. Your program will include practical clinical experience and on-the-job training, as well as training in the most up-to-date dental and X-ray techniques. After finishing the program, you can get support and assistance finding a job as a dental assistant.
Start Your Career as a Dental Assistant Today
If you want to help people and are looking to get started in a new career soon, becoming a dental assistant might be the right option for you. The American Institute of Dental Assisting offers 13-week dental assistant programs in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona. Book a virtual tour today to get to know our campus, students, and program and get ready to start a new, rewarding career.