For those who want a career in dental industry are often confused as which field to choose – Dental Hygienist or Dental Assistant? And in case you think that both the career fields are same then you are completely wrong. It is important to understand the fact that dental hygienist and dental assistant are two different careers. The only similarity that these two have is they both work under the supervision of dentists. Basically, a dental assistant has administrative duties and helps the dentist during patient procedures. Meanwhile, a dental hygienist has more clinical works with patients, even performing some tasks without a dentist’s immediate oversight. Along with this, there are ample differences between these two aspiring careers in respect to training, salary, educational requirements and future prospects. So, in case you are planning to choose a career path in any of these fields, you need to aware of the major differences.
Let us look how these two differ in various aspects.
There is a huge difference in job responsibilities of dental assistants and dental hygienists. While the main tasks for dental assistants are working closely with patients before, during and after dental procedures; assisting the dentist during the treatment procedures; taking and developing x-rays; preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipments; preparing the dental tray; helping keeping patients’ mouth dry and clear by using suction; taking impressions of patients’ teeth for study casts (models of teeth); assisting the dentist in making cast for caps, crowns and dentures; cleaning removable appliances; teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies; giving follow up care appointments to patients; maintaining patient records; giving invoices and receive payments; making an order for dental supplies and materials; performing office management and so on. In short, they conduct majority of the administrative tasks under the supervision of a dentist.
On the other hand, dental hygienists are basically responsible for tasks like collecting information about the patient’s oral and medical health history; taking care of calculus, stains and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth of the patient; making molds of patients’ teeth used for evaluating treatment; charting patients’ oral conditions for the dentist; applying fluorides and decay preventatives; administering local anesthetics and removing sutures and dressings and so on. Well, some of the tasks performed by them such as administering anesthetic, applying fillings and removing sutures vary from state to state. In short, the job responsibilities of a RDH mostly tilt towards clinical aspects in a dentist’s clinic.
As the job responsibilities and educational requirements are more for dental hygienist, they obviously make more money as compared to dental assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) dental assistants made median annual wages of $33,230 per year as of May 2009. On the other hand, as of May 2009, median annual earnings of RDHs were $67,340 and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected 36% growth in the field by 2018. In fact, the United States Department of Labor (USDL) has also reported that the salary of dental hygienists is much higher as compared to that of dental assistants. Salaries are generally based on the skills and experience of the person and also the geographical location.
For a dental assistant, it is not necessary to have a certification in an educational program in majority of the states in the United States. The certification required for becoming a certified Dental Assistant, is the Certified Dental Assistant or the CDA certificate. Well, completing a school program is not compulsory. A person can get this certificate if he/she works for two years under the supervision of a dentist.
On the other hand, to become a dental hygienist it is must to complete a valid educational program. It is important to clear a written as well as clinical exam. The certification program and licensing procedure may vary from state to state.
As far as education is concerned, there is no need for any specific educational qualification to become a dental assistant in the USA. You can just enter the field and gain knowledge under the supervision of a senior dentist or a RDH. However, pursuing a dental assistant program is a good option as it increases the chances of finding work. Health organizations prefer to appoint one with experience and knowledge about oral treatment procedures.
On the other hand, to become a dental hygienist it is important to pursue a certification course, bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or even master’s degree. However, in most of the states in the USA, you must atleast have an associate’s degree to get a job. It usually takes 2-4 years of duration depending on the type of program you have choosen. Currently, there are over 200 accredited programs to become a dental hygienist in the United States.
In the USA, it is must for dental hygienists to have a license before starting their practice. But for a dental assistant there is no need of a license to start their career. The eligibility to become a RDH varies from state to state in the USA. However, the basic requirement is same like a postsecondary degree from one of the accredited dental hygiene programs, a written examination and a clinical examination. Candidates must clear the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination, a written examination conducted by the American Dental Association. In some states, candidates must also pass a clinical examination administered by the state licensing board or regional testing agencies. After earning licensure, they become eligible to use ‘RDH’ after their names.
Career Growth and Future Potential:
The salary of a dental assistant is less but it gives a solid base to pursue a dental hygienist degree in future. Remember there is no age bound for education. Likewise, a dental hygienist after some years of experience can think of higher studies and become an Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner also known as a dental therapist. This advance degree will open doors for higher position in teaching and research field. In fact, a dental hygienist can go back to college to acquire a dentistry degree too. For both dental assistant and dental hygienist, the opportunity for further education and career advancement do exist. It is just up to you as what you want.
Well, these are some of the major differences between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist in respect to their job responsibilities, salary, educational requirements and future prospects. So, if you are planning to enter either career field you have an idea about the basic differences between these two professions. Both the professions need people who have strong communication skills, ample of patience and manual dexterity skills, encouraging, caring and sensitive of patients who are in pain or distress. They must also be positive and optimistic and willing to listen to others.
To conclude, hope you can make a good decision now regarding which career path will be a good option for you.