Both the dental assistant and dental hygienist are important positions within a dentist's office, and they have different responsibilities. They earn very different salaries, and their education and training also varies greatly. When deciding which one is the better career choice for you, the first step is to fully understand the difference between an assistant and a hygienist within a dentist's office, and determine which one would be a better fit for your future.
Dental Assistants' Duties
Dental assistants usually work closely with patients before, during and after procedures. They assist the dentist during treatments, take and develop x-rays, and they sterilize and set up the instruments and equipment the dentist will need during each appointment. They take impressions of patients' teeth for making dentures and other appliances. They teach patients about oral hygiene and sometimes help with office management. Usually, the duties they are allowed to do vary by state and by the conventions of the offices where they work.
Dental Hygienists' Duties
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Some duties of the a dentist hygienist may overlap with those of a dental assistant. The hygienist's responsibilities include obtaining information about the patient's medical history. They remove all calculus, stains and plaque from surfaces of the patient's teeth and make impressions of patients' teeth. They making notes of the patients' dental conditions for the dentist and they apply fluoride and decay-prevention products on patients' teeth. They may administer local anesthetics to patients' gums before cleanings. Sometimes, they might removing sutures and oral surgery dressings.
Salaries and Education Requirements for Dental Hygienists and Assistants
The median annual salary for a dental assistant is $33,470. The median annual salary for a dental hygienist is $68,250. These salaries may vary by geographic location. Dental assistants usually are required to have either a certificate or diploma in dental assistance. Dental hygienists are usually required to have either an associate or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene.
Deciding On Your Specialty
Remember that dental assistants and dental hygienists perform different roles within the dental office. In addition, their educational paths are very different. The differences in the responsibilities, education, and salaries are significant. When considering one of these careers, it is important to examine all of these aspects. Educational requirements, responsibilities and salaries also will vary state by state, and office by office.
Joyce Moed has more than 15 years of print media experience, covering business, finance, community news, features, religion, politics and more. She began writing in 1995 and has written for publications such as the "Sun Sentinel," "Orlando Sentinel," "Jewish Journal," "Palm Beach Jewish News," "South Florida Business Journal," "Credit Union Journal," "Parklander Magazine" and "Alter Ego Magazine."