Dentist vs Dental Hygienist: What’s the Difference?

There is a noticeable overlap between dentists and dental hygienists. But in dentistry, these two dental professionals differ quite vastly and are reflected in what their roles entail and what they’re expected to perform. Understanding their differences is important, so you don’t assume one can provide services or important dental insight.

Check out how they differ down below!

Key Differences Between Dentists & Dental Hygienists

Education & Training

One of the biggest differences between a dentist and a dental hygienist is their level of education.

There is a reason why a dentist has the title “Dr.” – they have earned it by obtaining a doctorate. Consequently, it’s a long road to try to become a dentist. They first need to take a four-year undergraduate degree program with courses mainly in the sciences, then take the dental admissions test to be admitted to an accredited dental school. Once you graduate, you must take an exam to qualify you as a fully licensed dentist. Additional education might be required for some dentists who specialize in a certain type of dentistry (i.e. endodontics) and would need to take up residency for two to four years.

Meanwhile, a dental hygienist requires less training than a dentist. To become a dental hygienist, you generally only need an associate’s degree, typically taking three years to complete. Like a dentist, once they complete their schooling, they will need to pass an exam to earn a license to practice and officiate as a registered dental hygienist. Unlike dentists, the scope of their education doesn’t leave room for them to specialize in certain fields of dentistry.

Duties & Responsibilities

For the most part, dentists and dental hygienists work rather closely with one another since they work within a dental clinic. Where they can either work independently or even assist one another. However, the scope of their duties differs completely and showcases the reason for their range of capabilities and responsibilities.

Dental hygienists’ main duties involve dental procedures like teeth cleaning, taking X-Rays, examining patients for oral diseases like gingivitis, providing other preventive dental care, and educating patients on how to improve their oral health. In essence, they are mainly regulated to these particular dental procedures as they’re great for helping administer care for dentists while working on patients needing more advanced dental procedures.

In which case, if any oral issues do arise, dental hygienists can spot them. However, they can’t diagnose them like a dentist. Due to their intensive medical background, dentists are qualified to evaluate a proper diagnosis (i.e. interpreting x-ray results). Once diagnosed, dentists can help give you the treatment to repair tooth decay and gum disease.

In which case, they can perform oral surgeries if necessary as a means of treatment. So, naturally, dentists are capable of handling local anesthetics for basic procedures and can prescribe medication. Suppose the dentist specializes in a certain field of dentistry (i.e. orthodontics). In that case, they can perform dental procedures that dental hygienists are unable to do and go beyond the skillsets of a general dentist.

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Work Schedules & Environments

You would think that dentists and dental hygienists would have similar schedules, right? You would be surprised that it’s quite the contrary. Generally, a dentist’s schedule can vary based on the needs of their patients. They can either be working some evenings and weekends or work less than 40 hours a week.

On the flip side, dental hygienists’ work schedules are more flexible. It’s not uncommon for many dental hygienists to work part-time since dentists would typically hire them only a few days a week. In addition, dental hygienists aren’t limited to working at one dental clinic. They’re able to work for more than one dentist.

Salary Expectations

When comparing the annual salary of a dentist and dental hygienist, there is a clear distinction between how these two dental professionals get paid. Whether a dentist is part of a large practice or has one of their own, they make a pretty fine salary – with the average salary amounting to $236,825 a year. It’s no wonder it can be quite pricey to see a dentist! Dental hygienists can expect a lower salary than dentists but bring home a comfortable average yearly salary of approximately $78,828.

Similarly, these two dental professionals’ earnings are typically higher than other careers with similar educational requirements. Whether you’re a dentist or dental hygienist, it’s clear you can make a good living with either career.

There is a lot that goes on at a dental clinic. A dentist and dental hygienist’s clearly defined roles make running one more efficient.