Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant: Salary and Duties, What’s The Difference?

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Dental Hygienist vs Dental Assistant: Salary and Duties, What’s The Difference?

Dental Hygienists and dental assistants are both integral members of the dental team. How much does a dental hygienist make? They each have their own specific job functions, salaries, and work under the supervision of a dentist, but what’s the real difference between the two?

The dental assistant:

Being a dental assistant can be very rewarding. In today’s ever changing society, the demand for dental assistants continues to grow at an exponential rate.  Dental assistants are an essential member of the dental team carrying out various duties. Some of which include:

  • Assisting the dentist during various dental procedures by handing instruments to the dentist during the procedure, while using their great organizational skills. 
  • Preparing and breaking down dental units 
  • Sterilization of dental instruments
  • Assisting in the appointment making process
  • Helping to provide oral care instructions to the patient.
  • Ordering dental supplies
  • Assisting in taking radiographs
  • Preparing dental impressions

Some states allow dental assistants to perform various expanded duties, such as:

  • Coronal polishing
  • Topical anesthetic application
  • Sealant application
  • Fluoride treatment application 

Requirements for becoming a dental assistant:

Some states require dental assistants to hold a license or certification, but these requirements may vary from state to state.


Dental assistants have a competitive salary.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a dental assistant as of May 2019 was $40,080 and estimated an 11% increase in employment opportunities.

The Dental Hygienists:

As a dental hygienist, this profession can be fun and full of opportunities. The dental hygienist is a preventative oral health professional with a variety of different duties depending upon their chosen path.  

Hygienists have a multitude of opportunities.  As clinicians, dental hygienists have the ability to provide oral care to patients in a variety of different clinical settings, such as: private dental offices, hospitals, nursing homes, state and federal government facilities and including prisons to name a few. 

The tasks performed by hygienists are more advanced than a dental assistants tasks, as they work directly on patients. These tasks involved more direct patient care.  While performing the dental hygiene process of care in a clinical setting, a few of their duties include:

  • Assessing a patient’s oral health condition, while determining the presence or absence of disease.
  • Determining disease risks and helping to modify those risks
  • Removing soft and hard deposits from teeth, through the use of various dental tools and in some cases they use lasers
  • Tooth polishing
  • Soft tissue management
  • Apply sealants
  • Taking radiographs
  • Tooth whitening
  • Fluoride treatment application
  • Administration of local anesthesia 
  • Providing patient education and more.

*Some states allow for hygienists to open up their own dental hygiene practice with more expanded duties. 

Other than being a clinician, some choose to take a different path such as: education, entrepreneurship, public health, and pharmaceutical sales to name a few.

Requirements for becoming a dental hygienist:

An associate’s degree is required in order to be a registered dental hygienist, but some go on for their bachelor’s and master’s if they choose to expand and specialize in a particular area such as in education. 

Attending an accredited dental hygiene program culminates in a clinical and written examination, which leads to a licensure that one must keep up with. The training that a hygienist undergoes is extensive and patient centered.  


According to the business insider, Dental hygiene is one of the top paid associate degrees you can have.  As of May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, states that the median salary for dental hygienists in the United States is $76,220 per year; but it is also good to know that some states provide a more competitive salary than others. The estimated job outlook is expected to grow 11% by the year 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.  For more information about dental hygiene salaries and careers click here.

Whether taking the career path of dental assisting or dental hygiene, the job outlook for both continues to grow exponentially. Both careers provide very rewarding opportunities and are essential members of the dental team that work together for efficiency.  Which career path would you choose?

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