Dental Assistant Vs. Dental Hygienist: Understanding the Key Differences

dental schoolIf you’re considering a career in the dental industry, you’ll have several options to choose from. But what exactly differentiates these professional paths? In today’s post, we’ll be talking about two positions that are often mistaken for each other: dental assistants and dental hygienists. Although both dental assistants and dental hygienists enjoy employment at a dental practice, the two jobs entail very different qualifications and daily obligations. With the knowledge you’ll obtain here, you can make a more informed decision about what kind of career might be best for you.

Dental Assistant

  • Variety of Duties: In 2017, there were 7,030 dental assistants employed in the state of Arizona alone. One reason why this career path is so appealing is the opportunity it provides to handle a variety of job duties. While dental hygienists may also handle some prep or even administrative obligations, dental assistants get more of a chance to get involved in several different aspects of a dental practice. You’ll get a chance to interact with patients during every phase of their visit, prepare and sterilize equipment, take X-rays and teeth impressions, and perform basic office management tasks. You’ll get a taste of everything, which is ideal for those who want to build a variety of skills and can’t see themselves in a mundane field.
  • Rapid Education: Although both dental assistants and dental hygienists need to complete some kind of dental school education, there’s a noticeable difference in how quickly you can transform your dental assistant training courses into real on-the-job experiences. When you undergo practical dental assistant training, much of it will be on-site. Rather than having to spend years in a dental school classroom, you’ll have the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned and become accustomed to what being part of this industry is really like. Not only can this allow you to move up more quickly in the ranks, but it can also allow you to make a living from your chosen career path far sooner.

Dental Hygienist

  • In-Depth Duties: Dental hygienists may sometimes be tasked with certain administrative duties, but the bulk of their responsibilities will lie in patient treatment. A dental hygienist will typically be tasked with more in-depth tasks, such as removing plaque from a patient’s teeth or even administering local anesthetics. If you’re more interested in detailed medical duties rather than learning about a variety of jobs within the office, you may want to consider going to dental school to become a hygienist.
  • Longer Commitment: As we mentioned above, becoming a dental hygienist requires a more advanced degree. Therefore, you’ll need to spend far longer in dental school prior to being able to work in the field. That can be seen as a benefit by some people, depending on their career goals. But you can’t expect to learn how to become a dental hygienist in a matter of weeks or months. You’ll typically need to spend at least two years on education alone, which can be a financial burden and a colossal time commitment. If your aim is to get real-world experience and start working as soon as possible, you won’t be able to achieve those goals if you’re set on becoming a dental hygienist.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Both dental assistants and dental hygienists have a positive job outlook and can provide both career satisfaction and financial security. But understanding the key differences between these two occupations can allow you to make the correct decision for your future. To learn more about enrolling in school to become a dental assistant, please contact us today.

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