Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant: Understanding the Difference
The general public, including dental patients, typically do not quite understand the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. Sometimes we are all referred to as “dental technicians,” “nurses,” or “those girls.” It is important for someone looking to go into the dental profession to understand the key differences.
Dental Assisting is the program we offer. Programs or schooling for dental assisting is typically offered either at a vocational school- which you take part in during high school or a career/technical program like ours. Most colleges or universities do not offer it because you do not have to have a degree to be a dental assistant. Let’s elaborate more – you can actually do a preceptorship (on the job training) to become a dental assistant. But let’s be honest – what dentist is going to want to hire someone who doesn’t know a thing about teeth? This is where our program comes in. We offer an accelerated 12-week (13 day) program where you can learn all of the fundamentals to being a great dental assistant. The truth is – no dentist is the same. They all have their own style, verbiage, and materials they like to use daily. There is no way to teach every case or scenario you will encounter on the job in the real world. That’s why we offer a program with the necessary certifications you must obtain – radiology and CPR – and the knowledge to get a job and grow your skills from there.
A dental assistant can take x-rays, update a patient’s health history, obtain vitals, take dental impressions, do dental charting, place topical anesthetic, assist during dental procedures such as crowns, fillings, bridges, implants, extractions and more. They are multi-talented and fast workers. It is entirely optional for a dental assistant whether or not they become state board certified
A dental hygienist must obtain a minimum of a 2-year degree from college, and pass all three parts of their state board exam to practice (work). The thing is unless you take college classes in high school, there is no way to make this a 2-year degree. All community colleges require two years of prerequisites (could be done in a shorter time depending on class load) before applying to the dental hygiene program. You also must take an entrance test (similar to the nurse entrance exam) as well. These factors go into whether or not you are accepted. There is no waitlist, and they take the top applicants that apply. Class sizes are also limited. This means to be competitive you must have all of your prerequisite courses complete with mostly A’s and do well on the entrance test and interviews if they have them. Many times, students do not get in their first year applying and must wait a year and reapply with higher scores. The 2-part board exam includes written and clinical portions you must find your own patient for.
A dental hygienist can also take x-rays, dental impressions, update health history, obtain vitals, dental charting, and place topically. What they don’t do is assist the dentist. What they do in addition to a dental assistant is professional cleanings, injections to numb patients (separate board exam), in-depth patient education, and nutritional counseling. They basically have their own column of patients and the doctor does the exam at the end of each appointment to check for cavities. So, they do work more independent.
Both are great professions and are unique in different ways. The job outlook looks great for any profession in dentistry right now so you really can’t go wrong. It just depends on what works best for you financially, the timing and length of each program, and where you really feel like you would fit. Call us today to schedule a tour to see if dental assisting is the right choice for you! 614.526.8842