A dental assistant is trained to perform both clinical and administrative duties at a dental practice. A typical day for an assistant in a dental office may include answering phones, filling out insurance forms, organizing labs, referrals, general bookkeeping, and showing patients to examination rooms. Some assistants may also perform certain laboratory tests and educate patients on treatments. However, not all dental assistants are qualified to perform these duties.
The education requirements for both dental assistants and hygienists are different. The minimum education requirements for a DA are different depending on the state in which the person lives. Some states don’t require a degree for the position, while others require a high school diploma or GED. In either case, it’s best to pursue courses in biology and anatomy while still in high school to gain the necessary skills. Additionally, some states require dental assistants to complete an associate’s degree or take an examination to become licensed. A dental assistant should consider the state’s Board of Dental Examiner’s requirements and determine whether it’s required for them to become licensed.
Although dental assistants and hygienists share many of the same tasks, they are not the same. The primary difference between a dental assistant and a hygienist is that an assistant performs patient-centered work. They perform routine cleanings and examinations, remove tartar and plaque, apply fluoride treatments, and chart a patient’s dental condition for the dentist.
While dental assistants may be paid lower than hygienists, both are in high demand. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dental hygienists is greater than that of dental assistants. Hygienists earn higher salaries, but assistants earn significantly less. Hygienists, on the other hand, work directly with patients. Their salary levels are significantly different, but their educational requirements are similar. While they aren’t identical, they both play critical roles at a dental practice.
As the first person patients see at a dental office, a dental assistant performs a variety of supportive functions. They teach patients about proper oral hygiene, clean and sterilize dental instruments, and provide office support to the dentist and hygienists. They are also regarded as the catalyst that helps the practice run more smoothly. In some ways, they can even perform dental procedures on their own.
Although the education required to become a dental hygienist varies from state to state, most programs last approximately one year. Graduates earn a diploma or certificate. During this time, they learn about dental terminology, gain practical experience in labs, and gain clinical experience. Most dental assistants are taught on the job and learn about patient care under supervision. A bachelor’s degree is required to practice as a dental hygienist.