In a general sense, the majority of people find little distinction between a dental assistant and the dental hygienist. Simply looking at the difference in titles, it is easy to see that hygienist is a more specific term than the general reference of assistant. Where the dental assistant is responsible for more generalized duties within the private or group practice, or in specialized practices, such as oral surgery and orthodontics, the hygienist will actually perform procedures on patients with minimal supervision.Differences in DutiesWhile the dental assistant will perform four-handed dentistry, there are more office duties that require their attention, such as putting patients at ease in the office, scheduling appointments, recording the medical history of patients, educating patients on proper dental practices, billing, inventory, phones and other administrative functions.The dental hygienist spends much more time dealing directly with patients. They are performing procedures and reporting their findings to the supervising dentist. This direct work has a greater potential to involve legal ramifications, which is why the training is more demanding, regulation is much tighter, but then, the pay is about double that of an assistant.While the dental assistant is paid less, they typically receive benefits from the dentist employing them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least 86 percent of dental assistants reported receiving benefits where only half of all dental hygienists were getting benefits.Differences in SchoolingAnother important distinction starts at the beginning with the educational requirements. Students interested in either position will need at least a high school diploma. The high school student interested in either career is wise to take the college preparatory courses, such as health, biology and chemistry.The dental assistant will be able to complete a minimal course averaging 12 months in order to obtain their certification. With over 250 accredited programs available, it is important to be assured that the course undertaken is approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).The dental hygienist undergoes more schooling, at least a 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree, which would allow for opportunities to advance to higher positions based on experience and educational requirements. This is the position most would pursue who have aspirations of progressively advancing.Differences in Licensing RequirementsDental hygienists are required to obtain a license in order to perform their duties. There are few formal requirements for a dental assistant to start working in the field. A license generally will not be required unless the duties involve performing dental x-rays. Otherwise, a state exam approved by the ADA Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations will result in certification upon successful completion. On-the-job training and further specific education will make the dental assistant position one from which advancement may also take place.
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