Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: What To Know About The Two Career Paths

Dental hygienist cleaning teeth

If you are interested in a career working with others that brings something new each day and offers reliable pay and benefits, a dental career might be the ideal fit for you. Both dental hygienists and dental assistants are continuously working with patients, making a difference in the health and well-being of their community. This field of work is always growing, opening up numerous opportunities, locations, and competitive salary potential.

While these occupations share some similarities, they also have their fair share of differences. Northwestern College is based in Bridgeview, Illinois, and serves the greater Chicago area. Here, we break down the differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Although both healthcare career paths have some things in common, these professionals have very different duties. Dental assistants need to earn a certificate. To become a dental hygienist, professionals need to invest in more advanced training through associate or bachelor’s degree programs.

If your goal is to become a hygienist in the future, starting out as a dental assistant is a great way to begin your journey. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assisting is an in-demand career and one that can give you the experience you need to advance later on. The main duties of each job include the following:

Dental Assistant

For this role, job opportunities exist in private practices, dental clinics, and government health agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. These professionals work under the supervision of a professional dentist, balancing administrative and patient-care tasks, such as:

  • Assisting the dentist with routine procedures
  • Taking X-rays
  • Getting dental impressions
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Preparing and sanitizing treatment areas
  • Greeting and prepping patients
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Discussing proposed treatment plans with patients

The tasks that dental assistants perform daily are essential in keeping the office running smoothly and helping patients feel at ease. Dental assisting is a growing field with many opportunities and benefits, and individuals who work in this vital role are sure to make a difference in the atmosphere of a dental practice.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists also enjoy rewarding, in-demand career opportunities and work in similar locations as the average dental assistant. However, it is important to remember that a degree in dental hygiene requires a greater time and financial investment. Hygienists complete many daily tasks, such as:

  • Administering routine cleanings and gum treatments
  • Performing oral cancer screenings
  • Applying dental sealants and fluoride treatments
  • Referring patients to periodontal specialists
  • Working alongside dentists
  • Educating patients on proper oral hygiene
  • Reporting oral-health findings to dentists
  • Maintaining patient dental records

Many dental hygienists work in family dental offices, cosmetic dentistry, and general dentistry. Just like dental assistants, they also can land jobs in government, state, or local offices for physicians. Dental hygiene is an excellent career path for those looking for an exciting, ever-changing, and growing field. Individuals who plan to become dentists often are encouraged to begin in the field of dental hygiene.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist:  Which Role Is Right for You?

Both positions enable qualified professionals to work in the fast-paced and rewarding healthcare industry, but for some, it can be a tough call to decide the right route. For instance, those who value building meaningful relationships with patients and serving as a reliable educator about oral health may thrive as dental hygienists. Meanwhile, students who see themselves balancing administrative tasks with providing routine dental care could be ideal candidates for a dental assistant role. Whatever the case may be, the Dental Assisting program at Northwestern College is a great first stepping stone.

Launch Your New Career at Northwestern College

You can begin your journey toward becoming a dental assistant or dental hygienist at Northwestern College. With various tuition and financial aid options and support, our dental assistant program is within reach for anyone. If you are in the Bridgeview, IL, or the greater Chicago area and have additional questions about the roles of the dental assistant vs. dental hygienist, request info.  Or you can contact us to enroll today.