When you go to a dentist appointment, your dentist is only one of the people you’ll be seeing. Usually, either a dental assistant or hygienist will be treating you, too. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the dental profession, one of these paths could be for you. It helps to know that both careers are in-demand and command a decent salary. Read on to learn about the difference between each career and decide which one is right for you.
Both hygienists and dental assistants support healthy teeth, but they have separate duties and responsibilities. Hygienists work independently to treat patients and offer preventative services such as teeth cleanings and exams. They check teeth for signs of dental disease and educate patients on how to maintain a healthy mouth. To become a hygienist, at least an associate’s degree is usually required, with a passing of the state’s licensing exam.
Dental assistants, on the other hand, rather than providing independent services to patients, provide chairside support to dentists. They also update patient records and schedule appointments. These positions require a “non-degree award” or certificate of completion. Some states also require licensing or registration. Credentials can be earned by passing the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for dental hygienists, in general, is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment for dental assistants is similar, at a projected 19 percent growth from 2016 to 2026.
Salaries for dental hygienists vary from town to town but can range from approximately $64,000 to a little over $70,000. For dental assistants, the salary range is from about $32,500 to $35,500.