Both dental assistants and dental hygienists work with dentists to help people care for their teeth, but the two roles are not the same, and are far from interchangeable. A dental hygienist focuses on preventative oral healthcare and can work independently from a dentist, while a dental assistant performs both administrative and dental office tasks and is considered support staff for the dentist. If you are interested in learning to become a dental assistant through dental assistant training, it is important to understand exactly how the roles differ.

Female dental assistant examining a female patients teeth

Qualifications Needed to Work as a Dental Assistant

While a dental hygienist will need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in dental hygiene and will need to take clinical and written board examinations before receiving their state license, training to become a dental assistant can happen much more quickly. All you will need to do is enroll in a dental assistant training program. The dental assistant training program is usually a shorter certificate program which will combine both classroom and clinical study, as well as an internship and job placement assistance.

Tasks You Will Perform as a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants and dental hygienists both have a great deal of patient interaction, but do perform different tasks in the dental office. Dental assistants will work with patients before, during, and after procedures. They will assist the dentist during a variety of treatments, take x-rays, prepare equipment, organize dental records, prepare impression materials and take impressions, as well as perform some administrative tasks. Dental assistants always work in tandem with a dentist, whereas dental hygienists will often work independently, cleaning and polishing patients’ teeth, applying fluoride, and charting conditions for the dentist.

Job Outlook for a Dental Assistant

Both dental hygienists and dental assistants have an excellent job outlook. The demand for dental services is increasing as the population ages and more patients are understanding the link between oral health and overall health. While dental assistants do earn less than dental hygienists, their salary is competitive to others with similar medical certifications. Dental assistants have many job options in a variety of office settings, although many work in traditional dental offices. Dental assistants can enjoy a regular schedule in a clean and organized office.

How to Get Started with Dental Assistant Training

Dental assistant training programs can be found in many places, and not all are created equal. A good program will have options that are easy to manage without a significant financial investment or lengthy program. The program will be flexible, allowing adults who are ready for a career change to balance work and family while training for a new career. Job placement assistance will be provided, and graduates of the program will know they are ready for everything required by their new career. A program that utilizes an actual dental office, allowing students to learn by doing, can provide the best transition into a new career.

Dental assistants and dental hygienists are not the same, but both are a critical part of the dental care team. If you are interested in a career in the dental field, becoming a dental assistant can be done in as little as a year, getting you on a new path to a fulfilling and in-demand career very quickly. To learn more about our comprehensive dental assistant training program, or to get more details on how to enroll, contact South Florida Dental Assistant School today!