Many people confuse those who work with dentists on a daily basis and assume that anyone assisting must be a hygienist. This is not actually true. Hygienists and dental assistants have different roles to play in the dental office. Both are essential to a successful dental practice and both help people care for their teeth, but understanding the difference can help you decide if a career as a dental assistant is right for you.

Young boy sitting in a dentist chair with a dentist and dental assistant looking at his teeth.

You Can Become a Dental Assistant Quickly

Dental assistant training and hygienist training programs are different. In general, dental hygienists need a minimum of an associate degree, and in many cases, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college. Many dental hygienists will further their education with a master’s degree as well. Dental hygienists also need a state license. Dental assistants, on the other hand, do not need a degree. Most dental assisting training programs can be completed in as little as one year and going this route is a significantly smaller financial investment. Both programs will have a clinical portion of the training where the skills learned in the classroom are used on patients. 

Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists Have Different Duties

A dental hygienist is usually able to work independently on their duties, which include polishing patients’ teeth, removing hard and soft deposits on teeth, and cleaning teeth with a variety of instruments to remove tartar, plaque, and stains. Dental assistants usually work under the supervision of dentists and are true assistants who will help prepare the examination and treatment rooms, make sure the tools needed for the exam or procedure are available and sterilized, and hand instruments to the dentist during these exams and procedures. Dental assistants have an administrative role as well as a clinical role and will help update and maintain patient records too. 

Career Outlook

Both dental assistants and dental hygienists have a strong career outlook with job security. Dental hygienists can earn nearly twice as much due to their extra training and licensing. However, many dental assistants will use their on-the-job experience to further their career with extra education and can become a dental hygienist later on. In addition, both careers offer advancement opportunities with increased study and experience, and there are always options to move into specialist offices with different skills required.

Deciding if Dental Assistant Training is Right for You

Becoming a dental assistant is a great way to change careers without a big time or financial investment. If you like the idea of working closely with both dentists and patients while enjoying job security, dental assistant training can get you working in your new career quickly. After becoming a dental assistant, you can then decide if you are ready to further your training and begin your path to becoming a dental hygienist.

Both dental hygienists and dental assistants perform vital roles that will keep a dental office running smoothly. As a dental assistant you will enjoy an excellent career outlook and solid job security. This is a rewarding career, and if you’d like to learn more about our dental assistant training program, contact South Florida Dental Assisting School today!