Difference between dental hygienist and dental assistant


If you’re interested in a career that could help people smile their brightest, then you might find your calling inside a dental practice. Providing patients with oral care and sparkling new confidence is no small task. You just need to make one decision before diving in: are you becoming a dental assistant or a dental hygienist?


Both careers are vital to a dentist’s office and beyond, but the work itself varies. Ultimately, the education requirements for dental assistants differ significantly from those of dental hygienists.


Let’s break down the differences and similarities between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist, covering everything from responsibilities to training.


Dental Assistant Vs Dental Hygienist Overview

Both dental assistants and dental hygienists play vital roles in dental practices, but their responsibilities and training differ. Here's a quick overview of their similarities and differences.


  • Crucial Roles: Both dental assistants and dental hygienists are essential to dental practices, ensuring that patients receive comprehensive care.
  • Patient Interaction: Both professions involve direct interaction with patients, contributing to their oral health and overall well-being.
  • Formal Education: Both roles require formal education and training to perform their duties effectively and safely.


  • Scope of Practice: Dental assistants handle a mix of administrative and clinical tasks, while dental hygienists focus primarily on clinical duties.
  • Daily Duties: Dental assistants support dentists during procedures and manage office tasks, whereas dental hygienists perform cleanings, take x-rays, and educate patients on oral hygiene.
  • Educational Requirements: Becoming a dental assistant generally requires less time in training compared to a dental hygienist, who typically needs an associate's degree.

Now that we've covered the basic similarities and differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists, let's dive deeper into what each role entails. Understanding the specifics of their responsibilities, training, and daily duties will help you decide which career path suits you best.


Dental Assistant Overview

Dental assistants play a multifaceted role in a dental practice. They are often seen as the backbone of the office, providing support that ensures the practice runs smoothly. National Career College (NCC) offers a comprehensive dental assistant program designed to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge.


Dental Assistant Responsibilities

Becoming a dental assistant involves a combination of administrative and clinical tasks, making the role diverse and engaging. Responsibilities include:


  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Preparing patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Handing instruments to dentists during procedures
  • Drying patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Processing x-rays and completing lab tasks under the direction of a dentist
  • Keeping records of dental treatments
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Working with patients on billing and payment

For those who can't decide whether to work in the lab, interact with patients, or handle office work, dental assistant training offers exposure to all these areas.


Dental Hygienist Overview

Dental hygienists primarily focus on clinical tasks, working directly with patients to maintain and improve their oral health. They are a critical part of the dental team, performing tasks that help prevent dental diseases and promote good oral hygiene.


Dental Hygienist Responsibilities

The responsibilities of a dental hygienist are more clinically focused compared to those of a dental assistant. They include:


  • Removing tartar, stains, and plaque from teeth
  • Applying sealants and fluorides to protect teeth
  • Taking and developing dental x-rays
  • Assessing patients’ oral health and reporting findings to dentists
  • Documenting patient care and treatment plans
  • Educating patients about oral hygiene techniques, such as proper brushing and flossing

You may recognize the hygienist as the professional who handles the majority of biannual cleanings.


Dental Assistant Vs Dental Hygienist: Differences in Educational Requirements

The path to becoming a dental assistant or a dental hygienist involves formal education, but the length and type of programs differ.


Dental Assistant Training

To start your career as soon as possible, consider becoming a dental assistant. Many dental assisting programs take about one year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Upon completion, you could be eligible for entry-level employment in various dental settings, including dental offices, supply manufacturers, hospital dental departments, laboratories, and insurance companies.


NCC’s Dental Assistant Diploma Program is a 9-month diploma program, which includes an externship to provide real-world experience in a dental practice setting.


Dental Hygienist Training

On the other hand, dental hygienist training is a more significant commitment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most programs require an associate degree and typically take three years to complete. This longer training period is necessary due to the more specialized and clinical nature of the work.


Understanding the differences between dental assistants and dental hygienists is crucial in making an informed career choice. While both roles are essential in the dental field, they require different responsibilities and educational paths.


Start Your Career with NCC's Dental Assistant Program

If you're ready to embark on a rewarding career as a dental assistant, National Career College offers a comprehensive program designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to excel. Our program provides hands-on training and education, preparing you for a dynamic career in dental healthcare. Explore NCC’s Dental Assistant program today and take the first step towards a fulfilling and impactful career.