Southern Ontario Dental College

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Dental Assistants and Hygienists have Totally Different Careers

Posted in Articles, Dental Assistant, Dental Hygienist.

Behind every successful dental office are dental assistants working with patients and associates keeping it running.

However, the difference between dental assistant and hygienist responsibilities can be hard to see. Dental assistants sometimes prepare patient’ teeth and hygienists may prepare dental tools, even if it is not in their job descriptions.

The line between the two is thicker than most people realize, though. For example, hygienists are typically educated in dentistry theories and community health, while assistants handle more practicalities and practice dentistry more as a trade.

To help you figure out which career is right for you, here are some of the differences between the two.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists are very important in the dental office and assist them in caring for patients.

They typically learn about basic medical theories and the human body as a whole, earning at least an associate degree in the process.

Their course can also include classes about health initiatives and educating patients about dental health. By taking more socially-focused courses alongside their dentistry ones, hygienists are expected to be able to communicate with a community of patients about how to have healthier lifestyles.

These responsibilities are on top of their medical duties, which can include examining patients, providing preventative care, and assessing patient health.

The tuition for an associate degree program can run up to around $22,000 and can take around two-three years to complete. Bachelor degree programs can cost around $30,000 and take around four years. For a little bit more ($40,000) you can finish your DH program.

However, dental hygienists can expect to earn a median of around $74,000 per year and play an important role in keeping the community around them healthy and smiling!

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants play an important administrative role in dental offices and support hygienists, dentists, and patients alike. Dental assistant job out is also brighter than most professions!

They typically work with patients to schedule appointments and process payments and are also responsible for maintaining patient records. They also make patients comfortable in dental chairs, prepare dental instruments, and hand them to the dentist during procedures while keeping saliva out of the patient’s mouth.

The difference between dental assistant and hygienist roles start before they’re hired, though.

Dental assistants are not usually in school as long as hygienists and get to work with just a certificate or license, instead of a full degree. To become a certified dental assistant (CDA), they must also pass the CDA test.

Typical dental assistant school costs $10,000 and can usually be completed in about a year, which means dental assistants can get to work quicker than hygienists. Dental assistants also have a significantly higher job outlook than other professions.

That means they can expect to get hired quickly. This job should make them around $33,000 a year.


While they can be very different, the difference between dental assistant and hygienist responsibilities can be small. Dental assistants should be prepared to perform basic dental care on patients, and hygienists may need to process paperwork sometimes.

Both careers are also rewarding and satisfying. If you want to get started in one of these fields, reach out to our school for more information!

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