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

Although both a dental hygienist and dental assistant work under a dentist, these are two different job roles. Both are important for how the dental office runs and supporting the dentists at the practice, but there are different tasks, responsibilities, and interactions with patients for each position. So what exactly is the difference between a dental hygienist and dental assistant, and how are both of these professionals different from your dentist?

Dental Assistant: Administration Tasks and Preparing Tools and Equipment

Dental assistants are responsible for administrative tasks such as scheduling, billing, greeting patients, confirming appointments, setting up rooms for visits, and cleaning exam rooms. Dental assistants may also clean tools, handle dental records, and prepare x-ray machines.

As far as interactions with patients go, dental assistants may work with the dentist to hand them tools during cleanings and other procedures, as well as talk to patients about their dental care practices. A dental assistant may also be able to apply fluoride treatments and take x-rays in some cases [1]. Dental assistants tend to work more closely with the dentist than directly with patients, whereas with a dental hygienist, the opposite is true.

Dental Hygienist: Responsible for More Direct Care With Patients

The dental hygienist works closely with patients doing many of the tasks that were once exclusively the responsibility of the dentist. Your dental hygienist is the person who cleans your teeth, conducts dental and periodontal exams, reviews your oral health history, checks vital signs, and takes x-rays.

Dental hygienists must be licensed and graduate from an accredited program for dental hygienists to practice. These professionals can apply fluoride and sealants and monitor your dental health for signs of disease [2].

Hygienists are also responsible for educating patients, documenting your care and exam findings, and communicating with the dentist. Dental hygienists can also interpret x-rays and administer local anesthesia and nitrous oxide.

What About Dentists?

Although dental hygienists can identify oral health conditions or issues, they can’t officially diagnose the problem. Dentists will diagnose oral health issues and also conduct oral cancer screenings. Dentists are also the only professionals who can conduct procedures such as filling cavities, extracting teeth, and performing any restorative or cosmetic dentistry work you may need [3].

As you can see, dental assistants and hygienists are both imperative for supporting patient care and the dentists at a dental practice. Each has different responsibilities and education that go along with their title. Have more questions about the role of your hygienist or dental assistant?

Ask your dentist next time you call in for your checkup!

Sources:
1. https://www.aapd.org/assets/1/7/StateLawsonDAs.pdf
2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
3. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/mobile/dentists.htm

Summary
Article Name
What’s the Difference Between a Dental Hygienist and Dental Assistant?
Description
Although both a dental hygienist and dental assistant work under a dentist, these are two different job roles. So what exactly is the difference between a dental hygienist and dental assistant, and how are both of these professionals different from your dentist?
Author
Leesburg Premier Dental