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What's the Difference between a Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist?

Published: October 15, 2014 | Updated: October 26, 2020

Did you notice that friendly face that greeted you at your last dentist appointment? Chances are this person helped you before you met the dentist and afterward sent you on your way with a smile, a save-the-date card and maybe even a new toothbrush.

This associate was probably a dental assistant, an employee who’s responsible for many different administrative and dental office tasks. And if you’re looking for a new career, you might be wondering how you could start on your own path to become a dental assistant.

What Does a Denal Assistant Do?

But just what will you do as a dental assistant?  You’ll be involved in the dental experience from beginning to end! The dental assistant has the important job of performing all the prep work up until an actual cleaning or surgery. Dental assistants are usually trained to take and develop x-rays of patients’ teeth, which are then analyzed to plan future treatments. Assistants also take impressions of teeth for plaster models and sterilize all the equipment before any dental procedures.

After a procedure, dental assistants demonstrate how to properly floss and brush, and then they schedule follow-up appointments. They also file patient records, manage appointment calendars and perform routine reception and office work.

In addition, dental assistants help with clinical dental work and office administration and also get plenty of patient interaction. Sometimes dental assistants discover they love their work so much, they take that next step and explore becoming a dental hygienist.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Hygienists do more hands-on patient work. They perform routine cleanings, administer anesthetics and apply decay-preventing treatments. The advanced work is left for the dentist, but if you’re reluctant to spend your days working inside peoples’ mouths, the hygienist role is probably not for you.

Training and Education for Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists

You’ll first want to understand the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. A hygienist works in a more medical role, and to become one, you will need at least an associate degree in dental hygiene.

Don’t worry, though, to become a dental assistant, you don’t need to spend years in school. In fact, you could earn your certificate in dental assisting from Charter College in less than 10 months!


If you want to become a vital member of a modern dental team and choose a profession with great prospects, a career as a dental assistant might be right for you. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants can expect much faster than average job growth through 2022.  Does becoming a dental assistant sound like a great career to you? If so, check out the dental assisting certificate program at Charter College in Canyon Country, Lancaster, Oxnard, Fife, Pasco, and Vancouver.