If you want to go into the dental industry, becoming a dental assistant or dental hygienist offers great opportunities. Both of these are vital roles within any dental practice.

While these two positions are found in dental practices, they are rather different. So before deciding between dental assistant vs. dental hygienist, make sure you know what each one is and does.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: A Complete Comparison

Job Duties

The job duties of a dental assistant and a dental hygienist are rather different. Of course, they both play a very important role within any dentist’s office, but they are different regarding job duties.

If you become a dental assistant, you will assist the dentist and the dental hygienist. Your job duties will include:

  • Sterilizing tools
  • Sterilizing exam rooms
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Updating patient records
  • Managing payments and billing
  • Performing laboratory tasks
  • Checking in patients for their appointments
  • Leading patients to the exam rooms

Dental assistants may also help the hygienist and dentist during the exam in some states. In addition, they may be able to perform some tasks under supervision.

On the other hand, a dental hygienist doesn’t take care of many administrative tasks. The duties of this position are more clinical. As a dental hygienist, your job duties will include the following:

  • Handle teeth cleaning and polishing
  • Take x-rays
  • Examine patients for oral diseases
  • Educate patients on oral healthcare
  • Remove plaque and tartar from teeth
  • Perform cosmetic whitening

A dental hygienist is often the first person a patient will see when they first go into the exam room. An exam of the teeth, gums, and jaw is usually performed first. Then, as long as there’s nothing serious, the hygienist will likely do the maintenance procedures and may take x-rays or dental impressions.

Necessary Education

The education requirements for a dental assistant and dental hygienist are also different. You can become a dental assistant with just a high school diploma or GED. However, if you want to become a dental hygienist, you will need to get an associate degree in dental hygiene.

Both positions required a license. As a dental assistant, you will need to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). In addition, you will need to pass the state dental board exams for dental hygienists to get your license.

Along with the education and licensing, both positions will include training. Dental assistants will get training on-the-job, while a dental hygienist is given clinical instruction.


One of the biggest differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists is the salary. According to Indeed.com, if you become a dental assistant, you can expect to make around $19 per hour.

As a dental hygienist, you will make more than double the hourly wage with an average of $40.89 per hour.

The employee benefits for both positions are very similar. You will likely get paid time off, access to a 401(k), health insurance, dental insurance, and other benefits. The actual benefits will depend on your employer.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Which Career is Right for You?

While both careers offer great options if you want to work in a dental office, one might be better for you than another. Consider the following before you choose between becoming a dental assistant or a dental hygienist.

How much responsibility do you want?

Dental hygienists have more freedom, but they also take on more patient responsibility. If you prefer to work without supervision, you might want to become a dental hygienist. If you don’t want too much responsibility, becoming a dental assistant might fit better.

How much education do you prefer?

You will need to pay for the costs to get an associate degree to become a dental hygienist. It will cost more and take more time than becoming a dental assistant. Consider how far you would like to take your education before choosing between these two careers.

Will you earn enough?

The biggest benefit you will gain from becoming a dental hygienist is the pay. You’ll earn about twice as much. This should be considered when making your decision.

Do you want to grow your career?

Both positions offer opportunities to advance your career. As a dental assistant, you can gain more training and education to become a dental hygienist. If you become a dental hygienist, you can gain more certifications and education to perform more complex procedures.

There are many benefits to both of these careers. Consider the differences between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist before choosing the right career path for you.

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