Although it may sound like dental assistants and dental hygienists have jobs that are similar, they really are totally different in regards to basic duties as well as in educational requirements. Also, there is a divergence in the median salary each earns per national statistics. If you are thinking about going into the field of dentistry, it is vital that you first consider what your goals are in terms of responsibility and of course, education.

Basic Description of a Dental Hygienist

In most states, the prerequisite for becoming a dental hygienist is completing an Associate’s Degree. Once they are licensed by the state, hygienists are the ones who clean teeth, examine a patient’s mouth for signs of disease within the mouth and help educate them on proper dental care. A dental hygienist can work on his or her own, even though they work within a dentist’s office. As mentioned, a dental hygienist is required to be licensed in every state but the requirements for licensure vary from state to state.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Unlike a dental hygienist, a dental assistant usually works directly with and under the supervision of the dentist. He or she is responsible for setting up the exam/treatment room, sterilizing instruments, helping suction during a procedure and other related duties as specified by their employer in accordance with state restrictions or limitations. There may be some states which don’t require a ‘formal’ education but many require completion of at least a certificate program in order to work as a dental assistant. Few dentists are willing to hire job candidates who haven’t taken a minimal amount of courses in basic dental assistant education.

Salary Comparisons between a Dental Assistant and a Dental Hygienist

Here is another difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. As per statistics from 2010, a dental assistant earns an average wage in the high $30,000s per year whereas a hygienist, who has studied for at least 2 years, earns in the high $60,000s. This information was gathered and calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and has yet to be updated. Some dental hygienists actually started as a dental assistant and discovered that they really wanted to progress within the field. This is actually a great way to ‘get your feet wet’ with a shorter study program and of course, a less expensive education.

It is possible to study dental assisting online and most, if not all, states do accept this curriculum. Take the time to look around for a reputable dental assisting program offered by a site either associated with a school or at least accredited to teach the subject matter. There was a time when dentists would train assistants, and even if this is allowed in that particular state, most now require some level of proficiency before interviewing job applicants. Dentists, like practicing medical doctors, are far too busy to train their own assistants. Find a good school and you are on your way to a career with a future.

Laura writes for, an online website that can tell you everything you need to know concerning work as a dental assistant.