It can be confusing to understand the difference between a dentist and a dental hygienist. After all, they both work in the dentist’s office and help take care of your teeth! But there are some key differences. A dentist is a doctor, while a dental hygienist is not. Dental hygienists clean your teeth and help prevent disease, while assistants help the dentist (and sometimes the hygienist.) Keep reading to learn more about who does what in the dentist’s office.
What is a dentist?
A dentist is a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and disorders of the teeth, gums, and mouth. Dentists may also perform cosmetic procedures, such as whitening teeth. They may also perform oral surgery, such as tooth extractions. Dentists typically have at least eight years of education and training beyond high school. They should also be licensed as a dentist in the state where they practice.
While they spend quite a bit of their time encouraging and assisting with preventive dentistry, they end up doing quite a bit of restorative and cosmetic dentistry.
What does a dentist do?
Dentists typically do the following:
- Examine patients’ teeth, gums, and mouth for signs of disease or abnormalities
- Order X-rays and other scans to be performed
- Clean teeth and instruct patients on oral hygiene
- Repair cavities and place sealants where needed
- Extract teeth when necessary, including problematic wisdom teeth and teeth that pose other health risks
- Perform cosmetic procedures, such as in office teeth whitening
- Make recommendations for treatment
- Explain treatment plans
- Perform other dental surgeries such as root canals or dental implants
- Administer local anesthetic and/or sedation
- Write prescriptions for painkillers and antibiotics
What is a dental hygienist?
Dental hygienists are highly trained professionals who clean teeth and help prevent oral disease. They may also provide other preventive dental care services, such as fluoride treatments and sealants. In some states, they may also administer local anesthesia and take x-rays. Their primary purpose is to help you achieve and maintain good oral health as part of preventive dentistry.
What does a dental hygienist do?
Dental hygienists typically do the following:
- Remove tartar, plaque, and stains from teeth
- Polish teeth
- Apply sealants and fluoride treatments to help prevent cavities
- Teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene
What is a dental assistant?
Dental assistants work closely with dentists to provide patient care. They may prepare patients for dental procedures, take x-rays, and provide other support. Dental assistants typically have some college education or training beyond high school. However, in some cases, they get training on the job.
What does a dental assistant do?
A dental assistant helps the dentist and hygienist take care of patients. Dental assistants may do any or all of the following:
- Prepare patients for oral examinations and assist with treatments
- Sterilize dental instruments
- Take x-rays and other scans
- Schedule appointments
- Reiterate instructions to the patient that have been given by the dentist
- Maintain patient records
- Provide patients with information about dental office procedures and policies
- Assist dentist in performing procedures, as needed
Now that you know the difference between a dentist, dental hygienist, and dental assistant, you can be sure to choose the right professional for your needs! Whether you need a routine cleaning or more complex dental work, the dentist’s office has you covered. Schedule an appointment today to get started on achieving and maintaining good oral health!