Dental hygienist vs Dentist: What is the Difference, Meaning, Roles and Salaries 2022

Dental hygienist vs Dentist: When you go for your dental appointment, the dental hygienist is usually the first person you see. In the same way that hospitals have doctors and nurses, dental practices have dentists and dental hygienists.

Understanding what each individual does can make you feel more at ease during your next appointment. We examine the difference between the dentist and the dental hygienist, how much dental hygienist makes in a year and what you should expect from both.

All care for the oral health of their patient and they work in the dental department of a hospital. In terms of schooling, they all graduated from dental school.


But does that make them all the same?

Absolutely not!!! 

Indeed there is actually a difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist.

In a profession as vast as dentistry, there exist specializations that bring about different partitions in the field all to bring about administering the right oral care.

Following the report made by the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Dentist jobs are expected to grow approximately by 3% through the year 2030. 

And dental hygienists’ job outlook will grow by 6% during the same period. 

This invariably states how important the role of each and every specialization in the dental department will be in a short while.


Because none of these specializations are superimposable, none can substitute for each other. 

So having a clear understanding of what these career specializations in the dental space are will help you choose a career path.

If you’re having trouble deciding and deciphering which specialization is which, this guide gives you a well pieced-out knowledge that answers your questions.

Welcome Aboard Scholar!!

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Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: Who Are They?

I’m sure you’re familiar with the name dentist that any time you step into a dental office you refer to the personnel as a dentist.

At times you may be right and many of the times, you are wrong.

Before we set sail on how much a dental hygienist or any of the dental personnel make a year, let’s distinctively make it clear the difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist.

The Dentist

A dentist is a doctor who works in the field of dentistry. This includes the mouth, teeth, gums, and surrounding areas. According to some studies, diseases of the teeth and gums can be indicators of other health problems.

The Dentist is the doctor in the department of teeth care just like the surgeon in the hospital.

It’s the dentist who examines, diagnoses, and treats your teeth. A dentist will encourage and assist their patients in maintaining a healthy mouth through regular cleanings and check-ups.

In summary, the Dentists are the ones licensed by the board and legally allowed to put a name on your dental health condition and then advise the appropriate care plan.

The Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist is an oral health practitioner who is in charge of preventing and treating disorders of the mouth.

Dental hygienists work independently for the most part, with just general supervision from a certified dentist. Dental hygienists are an essential component of dentist-led teams.

Their work relieves the dentist of significant responsibility, allowing the dentist to conduct more advanced procedures.

As a result, it is extremely typical for dental hygienists to do various preventive dental operations in an office, such as teeth cleaning, oral disease examinations, and other preventative dental care.

They also teach patients how to enhance and maintain their dental health.

Becoming a dental hygienist will require you to study in the best schools for hygienists. You can look out for the Best Hygienist schools in California if you want to study in the USA.

The Dental Assistant

Just like the name rightly states, the dental assistant is an assistant.

The job of a dental assistant lies and stops in helping the dentist who is the doctor and sometimes the hygienist.

Now you know. You can rightly differentiate between these professionals in the dental ward.

So whether a hygienist, dentist, or dental assistant, you know who they are and what their role is.

Talking about the roles, let’s go ahead and show you more about how you can tell the difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist without knowing their salary.

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: What’s Their Role in the Dental Ward?

I’m sure you can slightly tell who a dentist is, who a dental assistant is, and of course who a dental hygienist is.

To help you have a firm grasp of this difference, let’s examine the roles and responsibilities of a Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant:

Roles and Responsibilities of a Dentist

As we earlier established, dentists are doctors. Therefore, their job description will be more intense than any of their counterparts.

While a dental hygienist may notice a problem in your mouth and report it to a dentist or periodontist, he or she will not diagnose the condition.

That task is left to dentists, who then devise a strategy for prioritizing treatment and directing patients toward their oral health objectives.

Another notable difference between dentists and hygienists is specialization. While a dental hygienist may work in a periodontist’s office, he or she is unlikely to consider himself or herself a periodontist.

After dental school, some dentists undertake further training that allows them to specialize and treat patients with specific problems.

Periodontists, who treat gum disease and other gum-related issues, are one type of dental expert.

Endodontists, who treat nerve disorders, orthodontists, who fix people’s crooked teeth and misaligned bites, and oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who do surgery in the mouth, are further examples.

In summary, Here’s what the job description of a dentist is;

  • Fix or remove teeth. 
  • In some states, dentists administer local anesthetic.
  • Examine and diagnose your dental health condition.
  • Carry out fillings, gum surgery, extractions, root canals, and administration of sedation.

Dental Hygienist Responsibilities

It wouldn’t be out of place to say that dental hygienists are the nurses in the dental department.

Here are some of the roles performed by a dental hygienist;

  • A dental hygienist is one who you go to for mouth cleaning. 
  • The dental hygienist takes X-rays to tell the possible cause of your oral discomfort.
  • They are in charge of preventative care therapies like cleanings, scaling and root planing, and sealants.
  • Hygienists can administer local anesthetic in most states.
  • They give dental health advice, as long as you’re seeing a dentist.
  • Provides the dentist with information on things like oral hygiene, nutrition, and screening for symptoms of oral cancer or periodontitis. 
  • Whatever a dental hygienist does is managed and supervised by the dentists.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Dental Assistant

A dental assistant just supports either the dentist or the Hygienist during any of their clinical operations.

ALSO READ: 21+ Easiest Dental Schools to Get Into In United States 2022

What You Should Know When Preparing For A Career In Dentistry.

Above you can decipher the difference in the responsibilities of a Dental hygienist vs Dentist Vs dentist assistant.

Before making a choice of the career path you should take, there are major factors and considerations that must be put into perspective before choosing a career path. 

Here are the four important tips that will help you prepare for a career in dentistry:

#1. Research on the Different Careers In Dentistry.

At this point, you know that a career in dentistry can be vast and specific.

It’s important to first research the different types of careers in the field of dentistry just as you have done in this article.

However, keep in mind that we do not limit the career pathways to just the three: the dental assistant, hygienist, and dentist.

In addition to the trio, career paths such as orthodontists and oral surgeons exist and that could be a part for you if you find it passionate.

Before you make a choice, consider the educational requirements, and how much a dental hygienist or any other career path makes in a year. 

How long does the school you choose to study your career choice course in? 

What do you expect out of the profession? 

These are scores you must settle before choosing a career in dentistry. 

To help you may want to reach out to people who work in these fields to gain insight into their experiences.

#2. Define Your Support System

A journey into dentistry can be long for a dentist who ends 8 years to have a fruitful result.

A support system to help you can rely on for physical, mental, and emotional support will go a long way. 

Your support system could be family members, friends, healthcare providers, religious leaders, or academic advisors. 

Whichever suits you best, ensure you leverage it to help you take care of any challenges that may arise along your journey to become a dental hygienist.

#3. Strengthen Your Study Habits

Even before you get licenses to practice in any state as a dental hygienist vs Dentist Vs dentist assistant, it requires lots of studies.

Having success on any relevant standardized state licensing exams will need you to strengthen your study habits.

If you can thrive on your own, form a study group. You can also watch a tutorial on note-taking and create a detailed planner.

#4. Expand Your Professional Network

Beyond a study group, you also need to have a strong professional network. 

This network includes people from your academic setting, work-related connections, personal relationships, and mentors in the field of dentistry.

In this profession, you need to have a strong professional network to improve your career trajectory.

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: What’s The Difference in Their Career Path?

what is the difference between dental hygienist and dentist
what is the difference between dental hygienist and dentist

Whichever part of the dental profession you want to take will require you to be officially and professionally trained.

Depending on your level of education the salary structure will be different. That’s why people often ask about the dentist vs dental hygienist salary structure. 

To become a professional in the dental field, you need to define your career path.

Just like the medical doctors, becoming a dentist will require at least 8 years of education in dentistry. 

The dental hygienist on the other hand can do a dental hygiene Associate degree which takes 1-2 years or Bachelor’s degree which takes 4 years.

A dental assistant on the other hand requires little or no professional training to have a defined career path.

A dental assistant may just have to spend two years in hygiene school learning things like pharmacology, dental materials, oral pathology, and the like.

Do the training requirements differ between dentists and dental hygienists?

What Courses Are Offered in Dental School?

The courses offered in dental school may differ based on the school and program you’re applying for.

Some courses are specific to dentistry and restricted from dental hygiene and assistant training.

However, as long as you are an oral health care provider entering the medical career, there are courses that all specializations must study.

Whether you’re studying dental hygiene or dentistry, students need to have an in-depth understanding of 

  • Pharmacology
  • Oral Pathology.
  • Periodontology.
  • Dental materials.
  • Human anatomy
  • Disease prevention.
  • Human physiology.
  • Biomedical science.
  • Preventative oral hygiene 

ALSO READ: Is a Certificate a Degree? Certificate vs Degree – what’s the difference.

What are the Educational Requirements To Become A Dental Hygienist Vs Dentist?

How To Become A Dentist 

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in which you should major in chemistry, biology, and pre-medical courses.
  • Complete the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). 
  • Earn either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). 
  • Take a series of state-administered licensure exams. 
  • Get the appropriate licenses and practice dentistry.

How To Become A Dentist Assistant

  • Have a high school degree or GED.
  • Earn an associate degree from community colleges, technical schools, four-year institutions, or dental schools.
  • Obtain a state license. 
  • Further your expertise by earning a bachelor’s degree. 

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: What are Their Training Requirements To Become Licensed?

Becoming a dental hygienist or a dental assistant requires training and education. 

The training is what makes the difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist. It is what makes a dental hygienist better than a dental assistant.

The extent to which you’re trained, the extent to which your professional height will be.

Here are the training requirements as defined by the each the profession in dental care;

Dental Hygienist Training Requirements

To effectively carry out their roles as described above, dental hygienists ought to be specially trained.

The good news about training to become a dental hygienist will require less time as compared to becoming a dentist.

Here’s what your training requirements for a dental hygienist is before he/she can practice;

  • Get an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • Apply and take the dental hygienist exam as supervised by the board or exam coordinators.
  • Pass and apply for your license.

Once you are a licensed hygienist, you can now be able to include the initials “RDH” after your name, for registered dental hygienists.

Dentist Training Requirements

The journey to becoming a dentist can be a long one as compared to becoming a dental hygienist.

Even after obtaining a degree from any institution of higher learning, dentists need a few more years of education before they can legally practice as dentists. 

Here’s what your training requirements for a dentist are before he/she can practice;

  • Go to dental school.
  • Take a number of science courses during their undergraduate degree program.  (After an undergraduate degree, you can apply for a license and practice as a general dental practitioner)
  • Dentists who hope to specialize need to go for more training in the form of a residency program that lasts two to four years.
  • Apply and take the dentist exam as supervised by the board or exam coordinators.
  • Pass and apply for your license.
  • If you’re a specialized dentist you need an additional license in that particular specialty.

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: After School What Next?

Keep in mind that after school, every dental hygienist has to take a written national board exam of 6-8 hours.

After the national board exam, the dental hygienist also proceeds to take a state clinical board exam where they’re graded by experienced dental hygienists’ inpatient care techniques. 

Some states will require a fresh graduate from dental hygiene to take the licensure exams, such as 

  • Local anesthesia delivery
  • Jurisprudence/law requirements. 
  • Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) supervision.

On the other hand, dentists after their eight years of formal education just go ahead to apply for a license, pass the exams and start practicing. 

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant Salary: How Much Do They Make A Year?

The educational degree you get in the dental field has a huge impact on how much you earn.

That’s one of the differences between dental hygienists and dentists; salary structure.

From research according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the 2022 average annual salary of a dentist is $236,825 per year. 

On the other hand, dental hygienists earn $78,828 per year. That’s a huge difference in salary.

A dental assistant on the other earns less than a dentist and dental hygienist anywhere in the world.

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant: What’s the Job Outlook?

Following the report made by the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Dentist jobs are expected to grow approximately by 3% through the year 2030. 

Dental hygienists have a job outlook of 6% during the same period. 

This exponential growth can be traced to the increased number of aging populations.

Must A Dental School Be Accredited?

Yes, you must attend a dental school that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Graduating from a school that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation gives you a ground to apply for a license, get it, and practice.

Are the Professions in the Dental Field Superimposable?

Dentist Vs Dental Hygienist Vs Dental Assistant may be similar in a number of respects but none can replace the other.

While the dental hygienist can say that something looks “suspicious” in the cavity through x-rays, the dentist examines and diagnoses your dental health condition and gives it a name.

While all these take place, the dental assistant who is the dental nurse assistant ensures that the process and procedures go well.

In that regard, we say that none is able to replace the other all have a part to play.

When it comes to dentists vs. dental hygienists, both can do more than what an assistant does and requires more training, but only the dentist is a doctor. 

So when next you have dental personnel attend to you, you can be able to tell by their roles if it’s a dentist, a dental hygienist, or a dentist assistant.

If you ever settle on becoming a dental hygienist, you should consider going to the Best Dental Hygienist Schools in Georgia.

These colleges will train you on how to thrive and become a professional in space.

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