Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist: What is the Difference?

Both play support roles in dental offices but this page shares the differences between dental assistants vs dental hygienists.
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Assistant vs Hygienist

Dental Assistants vs. Dental Hygienists

What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

Great question! Yes, they both support dentists but their roles aren’t the same and neither are their educational or career paths.

For most people, not working in dentistry, dental assistants and dental hygienists appear to be the same thing. In reality, there are important differences between these two dental healthcare roles.

The short answer is that Dental Assistants focus on administrative tasks and dental hygienists require more education, are paid higher salaries, and have higher authorization while focusing more on clinical tasks supporting the dentist directly during patient care.

If you are considering becoming a dental assistant or a dental hygienist then understanding the differences between the two is critical for you to make your decision.

This table shows the main differences between dental assistants vs dental hygienists.

Position Education Salary Duties
Dental Assistant
80% Administrative
20% Clinical
Dental Hygienist
Associates, Bachelors or Masters
70% Clinical
30% Administrative
Dental Assistant Dental Hygienist
Associates, Bachelors or Masters
80% Administrative
20% Clinical
70% Clinical
30% Administrative

So, keep reading to learn how your job duties, education and training requirements, and career advancement opportunities will all vary depending on the path you choose.

Dental Assistants

Dental Assistants work closely with Dentists, primarily performing their tasks before and after the dentist works with the patient.

Although dental assistants assist the dentist during certain dental procedures, they mostly focus on the following tasks:

  • Preparing patients for their meeting with the Dentist
  • Working with patients before, during and after the Dental appointment
  • Handling administrative tasks for patients such as scheduling and billing
  • Assisting the dentist during certain procedures
  • Taking oral x-rays and developing them
  • Sterilizing equipment and instruments before and after use
  • Creating models or impressions of patient’s teeth for a variety of purposes
  • Completing office management tasks
  • Educating patients on proper oral health care

As you can see, dental assistant duties are mostly administrative with a few minor clinical tasks.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists require additional education and are given more authorization to handle additional clinical tasks.

Dental Hygienists work mostly directly with Dentists and patients performing the following duties:

  • Interviewing patients for their medical and oral health history
  • Cleaning teeth and removing hard and soft deposits including calculus, tartar, and plaque
  • Creating molds of patient’s teeth for evaluation and other treatments
  • Charting patient information for the dentist
  • Applying preventative care treatments such as fluoride and other decay preventative treatments
  • Giving local anesthetic to patients
  • Removing stitches and dressings

As you can see, dental hygienists earn their higher salaries through completing additional education and performing more clinical tasks assisting the dentist and patients directly during their treatments.

You may want to read more on becoming a dental hygienist to understand the education and training requirements.

If you are a dental assistant then advancing your career as a dental hygienist is a great step to take. If you are interested in entering the oral healthcare field then both of these career paths are great. Get started finding a dental program by clicking the blue button that says “find schools”.


* Salary data is taken from BLS national average salary data unless otherwise specified. Salaries will vary by location, specialization, work setting, years of experience, type of experience and a variety of other factors.

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