Dental assistants and dental hygienists are often mixed up, but these professionals carry out separate duties within the dental office, and will have undertaken quite different training. Both are supervised by the dentist, but while dental assistants were quite closely with dentists, dental hygienists often work more independently.
The Dental Assistants Role
A dental assistant’s position can involve patient care, office and laboratory duties. It’s the dental assistant’s job to obtain dental records from the patient, and to prepare the surgery by disinfecting and laying out instruments for the dentist. They need to hand the instruments to the dentist during dental procedures, and will generally ensure the patients are comfortable during treatment. After the procedure is completed it’s their task to advise the patient on how to look after their teeth at home. It’s also their job to prepare dental cement, impression materials and fillings, and they may also be required to prepare the x-ray machines for use by the dentist.
Additional duties might include light secretarial work including billing patients and making sure the payments are received, and ordering dental supplies. Some are required to help out with laboratory duties and have to make casts from dental impressions of patient’s mouth. They may also need to clean and polish any removable appliances and to make temporary crowns. In many states it’s a requirement that dental assistants are licensed, although in most states there is no formal education or training requirements for someone to become an entry-level dental assistant.
The Dental Hygienists Role
The work carried out by a dental hygienist is more advanced than that of a dental assistant, and they often work independently. Tasks that were originally performed by dentists are now being taken over by dental hygienists, leaving the dentists more time to see patients and to carry out more complex procedures. An important part of their work is cleaning patient’s teeth by removing all the plaque and tartar deposits before polishing them. During this treatment they will also assess the condition of the patient’s gums and will record any changes. Depending on the state, a dental hygienist may be able to undertake various other tasks such as removing sutures, applying fillings or administering anesthetics.
Differences in Qualifications
Dental hygienists have associate degrees or bachelor’s degrees, whereas dental assistants have certificates or diplomas, and this is reflected in the fact that dental hygienists tend to be paid a lot more money, and can achieve a far better hourly rate. In the past it was quite common for dental assistants to learn on the job, but nowadays more and more are choosing to take dental assisting programs, and these tend to take less than a year to complete. Once they have completed their training many have to spend several months learning on the job, as different dentists have their own styles of doing things. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed or registered in order to perform certain duties, and in this case the dental assistant must have attended an accredited dental assisting program and passed a written or practical examination. In comparison dental hygienists have spent at least two years training and have to be licensed by the state in which they are practicing.
Dental assistants are more likely to be employed full time by a dental office, whereas dental hygienists are often only employed part time, and may work in more than one office. This fact can mean that dental assistants are more likely to receive a better benefits package from their employer.