It has come to my attention that many people get dental hygienists and dental assistants confused. It’s an understandable mistake. Both perform supportive roles in the office and see patients independently sometimes. Furthermore in my office, we have more of a team approach and the hygienist and I will sometimes perform the assistants’ duties too. But dental assistants and hygienists do have different tasks that they perform in the office and also have differing levels of training.
In my office, Cheryl and Laura are the dental assistants. They prepare the room for treatment, get out all the equipment, and sterilize the room. They will help the dentist with the procedure, passing instruments and mixing materials and such. They can take x-rays, impressions, polish teeth, and educate patients on everything from insurance co-payments to oral hygiene.
Kala is our dental hygienist. She has more specialized in the area of oral care and cleaning teeth. Kala will remove calculus (or tartar), chart dental conditions, administer local anesthesia, and may work autonomously from the dentist. However, different states have different rules on the level of autonomy.
Most dental assistants will receive a diploma or certificate from a vocational school and the program will last from 9 – 12 months. Dental hygienists receive a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. In Oklahoma, a four year degree is required to be licensed to perform the duties of a dental hygienist.