Just about any dental office you've visited will have dental assistants and dental hygienists on staff and differentiating between the roles of the two can be difficult. This article will demonstrate those differences and also help anyone looking to enter the field when choosing between a dental assistant vs. a hygienist career.

Dental Assistant

Of the two career paths becoming a dental assistant will require less education and also comes with generally lower responsibilities.


To become a dental assistant you typically need to complete at the minimum a certification program, though this varies from state to state and some states may require an associate's degree. At the end of the program some states do require dental assistants to be licensed before they begin working, so it is strongly recommended that you look into the details of your state.

Work Duties

A dental assistant will do a great deal of the manual work in a dentist's office, from cleaning equipment to managing paperwork and billing. So in addition to knowledge of dental health and maintenance requirements a dental assistant will also often need to have office admin staff training and experience.

It's important to note that dental assistants will not actually perform procedures on clients in the office themselves, though they may assist a dentist or dental hygienist in performing their work.

Dental Hygienist

Becoming a dental hygienist requires more education than a dental assistant and also has a fair degree of responsibility to perform some procedures independently.


To become a dental hygienist you will at a minimum need to obtain an associate's degree, so a two year program, though a bachelor's degree may be required in some states. At the end of the program a licensing test is required in all states in order to become a practicing dental hygienist. Some may choose to pursue even more education, up to a master's degree, in order to qualify for even higher paying jobs.

Work Duties

A dental hygienist works more hands on than a dental assistant and can actually perform basic dental procedures themselves, i.e. cleaning and examining teeth and gums. Dental hygienists will also provide far more support to dentists when it comes to performing more advanced dental surgery procedures that need to be performed in an office. In addition to this a dental hygienist will also provide support in terms of reviewing X-rays and assessing medical histories and issues before the dentist becomes involved.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

When it comes to the two career paths becoming a dental hygienist clearly requires more education and entails more responsibility. As a result of this the pay difference is substantial, with a dental hygienist on average earning double that of a dental assistant. With such a significant pay difference if someone has the additional time to commit to a longer education program pursuing a dental hygienist career is far more lucrative. Spending a couple of extra years in school is a small price to pay to double your salary for the rest of your working career.