Paving Your Way in the Dental Industry

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Honest to God...never knew the difference between a dental hygenist and dental assistant before I read this.

The dental industry provides many exciting options in terms of careers. A dental practitioner can work in private practice, in research and teaching institutions and in the public sector or other industries. This means that by training as a dental practitioner, you can get an opportunity to grab any of the opportunities that are available.

One way to start out in this field is by enrolling in any of the dental assisting training programs that are offered by different colleges and universities. If you enroll in one of these programs, you will be trained as a dental assistant. The benefit of training as a dental assistant is that the position acts as a stepping stone to becoming a dental hygienist.

What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

To any person outside the dental field, the duties that are performed by a dental hygienist and a dental assistant seem interchangeable, but there are some similarities and differences between the two careers. Below is an outline of what dental assistants and dental hygienists do.

What dental assistants do

  • Collaborate with patients prior to, during and after a medical procedure. This involves providing care and instructions to patients.
  • Help the dentist during various medical procedures.
  • Take and process x-ray images of teeth.
  • Prepare and sterilize equipment and instruments.
  • Perform office duties such as scheduling patients and maintaining the dental records of patients.
  • Take tooth impressions.
  • Teach patients about proper oral hygiene care.

What dental hygienists do

Dental hygienists perform some of the duties that are performed by dental assistants. In addition to this, dental hygienists also perform the following duties:

  • Gather information about the medical and oral health of a patient.
  • Clean teeth by removing stains, calculus and plaque from their surfaces.
  • Create molds of the teeth of patients to aid in the evaluation of treatment.
  • Monitor the condition of teeth and providing the information to the dentist.
  • Treat teeth using fluorides as well as other agents that prevent tooth decay.
  • Administer local anesthesia before a procedure is performed.
  • Remove dressings and sutures after different medical procedures.

Why you’d want to move from a dental assistant to a dental hygienist

Working as dental hygienist gives you more opportunities since you have more skills than a dental assistant. Therefore, while you are equipped with skills in clinical, laboratory and radiographic procedures as a dental assistant, you will have an even broader scope of skills and knowledge working as a dental hygienist, which equates to higher pay.

Opportunities that exist for dental hygienists

As a dental hygienist, you can work in a wide variety of fields. According to the American Dental Hygienists Association, a dental hygienist can work in various areas:

  • Clinician: As a clinician, you can perform clinical roles in community clinics, schools, prison facilities, hospitals, private dental clinics and nursing homes.
  • Corporate: You can be employed as a sales representative, corporate educator, or product researcher.
  • Public health: There are many community health programs that will need your services.
  • Research and education: As a dental hygienist, you can be employed by research or education institutions.
  • Entrepreneur: You can also become a successful entrepreneur by using your imagination and creativity based on your knowledge as a dental hygienist.

Do we have any readers who work in the world of dentistry? Would love to hear your insights in the comments!


*This post is brought to you and contributed by Audrey Hobbs*

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