Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist


The dental field can be a great place to work. For those people who don’t want to spend years in dental school to become a dentist, there are other job options in the field that take much less time.

Dental assistants typically need only a year or less of training. Dental hygienists are usually required to obtain a 2- or 4-year degree in dental hygiene. Dental assistant and dental hygienist are two very different jobs, so it’s important to understand those differences if you’re considering a career path in one of these allied health careers.

Why Become a Dental Assistant?

dental assistant performs a wide variety of tasks in the dental office, which can keep the work fresh and exciting on a daily basis. Job duties of a dental assistant will vary depending on state and the specific dental office, but this job is very important to the overall functioning of any dental office.Dental assistants work directly with patients, ensuring their comfort and preparing them to see the dentist. They may also sterilize instruments and assist the dentist during a procedure. After the procedure, a dental assistant may help instruct the patient on oral hygiene. Dental assistants may also process X-rays and lab tests, keep records, schedule appointments, and handle billing. A typical day in the life of a dental assistant is busy, hands-on, and full of a variety of tasks.

Why Become a Dental Hygienist?

A dental hygienist’s job is more specific. While a dental assistant generally helps with a range of tasks in the office, a dental hygienist works with patients one-on-one. A dental hygienist’s main responsibility is to clean teeth, including removing tartar, stains, and plaque, as well as to apply protective sealant. This is a very hands-on job, and dental hygienists must like detail-oriented work involving patients’ mouths. This work may also include taking dental X-rays, reporting oral health to dentists, documenting patient records, and instructing patients on proper oral hygiene.

Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant – Pay, Job Growth and Training Differences

While both dental assistants and dental hygienists might work in the same dental office, these are two very distinct jobs. When choosing a career path, it’s important to weigh out the length and cost of training, as well as other factors like salary expectations, the nature of the work, etc.

Median Salary Comparison

  • The median salary of a dental assistant in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $41,180 per year.
  • The median salary of a dental hygienist in 2019, according to the BLS, was $77,090 per year.

Job Growth Comparison

  • The job growth for dental assistants is expected to grow 7% between 2019 and 2029, faster than average.
  • The job growth for dental hygienists is expected to grow at a similar rate, 6% between 2019 and 2029.

Length of Training Programs

Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist – Which Career is Right for You?

If you are interested in working in a dental office but don’t want to spend too many years in college, a dental assistant training program is a faster path toward a career in dentistry. If you don’t mind spending two to four years in training to pass a certification exam to become a dental hygienist, that career path may be a better choice for you.The type of work is very different, so consider your strengths and interests. A dental assistant may help with a lot of different tasks in the office, while a dental hygienist specializes in cleaning patients’ teeth. Consider what you want out of a dental career, and other important factors, like how quickly you want to start working.Do you think dental assisting could be the right career path for you? Get in touch with MTI by requesting more information to learn more about our dental assistant training program or to schedule your first campus visit!