There are many different roles in dental offices. While many people think that the entire staff are dentists, the reality is very different. Two roles that are equally important to any dental office are dental hygienists and dental assistants. They may sound similar but there are differences between them.
Dental hygienists vs. dental assistants
It’s easy to think that dental hygienists and dental assistants are the same thing. However, the two professions have different roles in dental offices.
A dental hygienist is often the person you spend the most time with during your regular checkup. He or she works with the dentist to make patient plans, but also performs job duties independently.
State law varies, but hygienists are typically responsible for:
- Removing plaque and tartar from teeth
- Polishing teeth
- Applying sealants and fluoride treatments
- Oral cancer screenings
- Taking dental x-rays
- Educating patients on proper dental hygiene techniques
- Making impressions of teeth
Dental hygienists usually receive their education from universities, community colleges and/or technical colleges. Their degree allows them to take licensure exams, which allow hygienists to work in a dental office. Though dental hygiene programs vary by school, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is responsible for accrediting all of them.
A dental assistant is a hands-on member of the dental office, working very closely with the dentist.
Some duties of a dental assistant include:
- Assisting the dentist during procedures
- Taking x-rays
- Preparing and sterilizing equipment
- Providing oral care instructions after procedures
- Teaching patients proper dental hygiene techniques
- Communicating with patients and office suppliers
Dental assistants typically receive their education from community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities, or dental schools. CODA accredited dental assisting programs too. Most dental assistants become nationally certified through the Dental Assisting National Board’s (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant exam.
Dental offices need dental hygienists and dental assistants to function
The biggest link between dental hygienists and dental assistants? They’re both essential for a successful dental practice. Without either of them your dental office would probably not run as smoothly or successfully.