Dental Hygienist and Assistant Jobs

A dentist’s office requires a team of support staff in order to function. This is where dental hygienists and dental assistants come into play.

Job Description: A Day in the Life of a Dentist, Dental Hygienist, or Dental Assistant

A dental hygienist works under a dentist.

This will usually be the person who you have the most contact with at the dentist’s office, as the dental hygienist cleans patient’s teeth, advises them on how to maintain good oral health and looks over their teeth before the dentist comes in to double check everything.

A dental assistant works in a dentist’s office but does not have the same qualifications of a dental hygienist. Dental assistants usually perform office duties, laboratory duties, and other less hands-on aspects related to patient care.

General Requirements and Training

A dental hygienist is required to have graduated from an accredited dental hygiene school, which can mean earning an associate’s degree, a certificate, a bachelor’s, or a master’s. Most dental hygienists have an associate’s degree, which takes about two years to earn. Dental hygienists must also complete a written and clinical exam in order to become licensed to work.

The requirements to become a dental assistant are less rigorous than those of a dental hygienist. In most cases, dental assistants learn their skills on the job. However a number of community colleges and trade schools do offer dental assistant training programs. In some cases, dental assistants perform specialized duties, such as administering X-rays, in which case they must become certified by passing the Dental Assisting National Board’s Radiation Health and Safety exam.

Salary, Benefits, and Opportunities for Advancement

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists earn a median hourly wage of $32.00, while dental assistants earn significantly less, at $15.57 per hour, as of May 2008.

Salary.com estimates the mid-50% earnings range of dental hygienists to be $57,477 to $72,971, compared to $29,670 to $36,170 for dental assistants.

Payscale.com reports the hourly wage of dental hygienists with one to four years experience as $26.11 to $35.64, compared to $11.81 to $16.25 hourly for dental assistants with the same amount of experience. After 20 years on the job, dental hygienists can expect $30.36 to $38.63 per hour, compared to $17.30 to $23.12 for dental assistants.

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