Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Is The Difference Between Dental Assistant And Dental Hygienist?

Many people are not very clear on what is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. Although depending on the specific work place there can be some overlap between the duties of the two, these are completely different career paths.

Typical Day Of A Dental Hygienist 

A dental hygienist is responsible for hygiene, as the name suggests. This means (s)he pays attention to the teeth, gums and mouth overall in therms of health and cleanliness.

The dental hygienist typical day includes mouth condition assessments, taking x-rays and reading them, finding signs of decay in teeth and also checking for signs of oral cancer. They clean teeth, remove tartar and plaque, apply fluoride. Dental assistants play an important role in patient oral care education and they record the health history of the patient. 

In principle, the dental hygienist job has less duties variety than the one of dental assistant.

A Day In The Life Of A Dental Assistant

As a dental assistant you act as the 'right hand' of the dentist basically. 

You will start the day by getting everything ready for use. This means that the instruments are sterile, dental appliances turned-on and functioning properly and so on.

Then you will review the files of the patients for the day and assess if additional preparation is needed. Certain health conditions require special measures. For example, organ transplant recipients need to take large doses of antibiotics prior to dental procedures.

Dental assistants play an important role in managing the patients. This means they are also responsible for understanding if patients are in a state of anxiety and for providing support. You will update their files and most probably be their point of contact.

To note, as a dental assistant you can go for specialization if this is something that you pursue in your career. In this way you get access to employment in cosmetic dentistry, in a dental lab and so on. The dental assistant career path offers many opportunities in terms of diversity.

What Is A Cosmetic Dentist?

What Do Cosmetic Dentists Do?

Cosmetic dentists perform procedures designed to improve the appearance of teeth, smile and mouth. This is the key difference between cosmetic dentistry and traditional dentistry. The traditional one focuses on diagnosing, treating and/or preventing teeth problems, on oral hygiene. Cosmetic dentistry focuses on improving looks.

The most popular US cities for cosmetic dentistry are New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago. So if you consider building a career in this field, you can keep this in mind.

Cosmetic Dentistry Procedures

Some procedures, such as fillings may also be found in the traditional dentistry. However, in the cosmetic dentistry they are approached from the perspective of maximizing a natural and nice appearance. There are also many procedures that are specific to cosmetic dentistry. You may find below the main ones:
  • Teeth Whitening. This is by far the most popular procedure, also known as "tooth bleaching". There are a lot of mass-market products available, as well. However, it is recommended that you go for a dentist supervised treatment.
  • Porcelain Veneers
  • Dental implants
  • Dental bonding
  • Dental bridges
  • Tooth contouring and reshaping
  • Dentures
  • Dental fillings
  • Dental crowns
  • Dental caps
  • Root canals
  • Accelerated orthodontics
  • Cosmetic gum surgery.
As per the above, you can see that there are quite a few cosmetic procedures and this field is continuously expanding. Have you seen the bright perfect smiles of Hollywood celebrities? Guess what, many of those people have just regular teeth and smiles. However, with some sound investment in cosmetic dentistry, things can change dramatically in terms of looks.

Cosmetic Dentist Salary

Cosmetic dentists salaries depend on a number of factors, but in principle they range from $90,000 to $180,000 per year. When adding bonuses and profit sharing, you get then to a total annual pay around $100,000 - $200,000.

For perspective, you can take a look at other salary levels in the dental field, eg. dental assistant salary, dental hygienist salary, dental technician salary.

What Does A Dental Assistant Make Per Hour?

When you consider a career, one of points of interest is of course the salary. In the case of dental assistant, the pay can vary depending on a number of factors. However, in order to have an idea, the level is somewhere around $9 - $19/hour.

Dental Assistant Starting Salary

The starting salary of dental assistants is at the lower level of the pay range mentioned, i.e. around $9 - $10/hour. There can be some slight variations depending if you are certified or not and also on location.

How To Increase Your Dental Assistant Salary

Among the factors that influence your pay level, we can mention certification(s) - are you a certified dental assistant? Do you have additional certifications, such as for example for taking x-rays? Experience also matters a lot, as well as the state in which you live in and the specific work location.

Dental Assistant Salary In CA

As mentioned, the pay varies by state and for example, the dental assistant salary in California ranges from $9.06 to $17.54 as per 

Then, there can be additional variations even inside the same state. For example, the dental assistant salary in Los Angeles will be higher than the one is a smaller metropolitan area.

Dental Assistant Salary in Florida

In Florida, the dental assistant salary ranges from $9.93 to $19.11 per hour, according to You can see that is pretty similar to California. Actually in all the states the levels are around these figures. So there is a lot of room to grow your dental assistant salary from the starting level. 

Dental Assistant Salary In Illinois

In Illinois, a dental assistant makes $9.87 - $19.60 per hour according to

New York Dental Assistant Salary

And as a final example, the dental assistant salary in New York ranges from $10.05 - $20.45 per hour. As expected, the level is higher than in the rest of U.S., but still, it does not deviate dramatically.

What Does A Dental Assistant Do?

Are you wondering what are the tasks performed by dental assistants? The truth is that the dental assistant job description can be different, depending on the practice. Each dentist has particular preferences and each place requires a slightly different way of working. There is even more duties variety if we get into the different dental assistant specializations. However, there is a core collection of duties that you may expect to perform.

The basic principle is that the dental assistant acts as a 'right hand' of the dentist. (S)he needs to prepare everything that the dentist needs to perform the treatment. This includes:
  • preparing sterile instruments, 
  • having all the appliances functional, 
  • assisting the dentist via supporting a good access to the teeth, 
  • keeping an area dry or wet, 
  • managing the patient tongue or cheeks, 
  • preparing mixtures, 
  • taking x-rays and so on.

The tasks performed by a dental assistant are wider in scope, though. A dental assistant is responsible also to manage the patients. Are they nervous, do they require emotional or informational support? Do they suffer from particular health conditions that imply special measures need to be taken? It is the assistant's duty to effectively manage this part as well. Many people actually enjoy this human contact of the job the most.

There is quite some duties variety in the dental assistant job, so it is unlikely to get bored. You could decide though to advance your assistant career via pursuing a more advanced specialized degree. This depends on your preference, but it is a good idea, as you will be able to get a better paid job, that you enjoy even more.

There are good job opportunities in this field right now, so if you would like to start a dental assistant career, this is the time to go for it. Find a good dental school and just do it!

What Do You Learn At Dental Assistant Colleges?

In order to become a certified dental assistant, you need to get the proper education. In a dental college you can expect to learn how to perform the most common duties that are part of the dental assistant job description. More specifically, you will learn to mix the impression material, how to take a x-ray, how the filling material mixing is being done, what instruments to hand to the dentist and so on.

Realistically, you can't learn absolutely everything you need to know in order to perform the job. This is because each location and dentist have a certain way of doing things. Therefore, you will still need to get training from the dentist. Moreover, some dentists prefer to hire someone fresh, so that they can teach them what to do exactly as they want. However, you can only be hired as a level 1 dental assistant if you are not certified. It is important to know though that it is possible to become a dental assistant even without college.

In order to earn more, you should consider becoming a specialized dental assistant. This of course implies a longer education period that can take up to two years.

Alternatively, you can become a dental hygienist and earn significantly more that a dental assistant. However, the education period is also longer, i.e. around two years. And hygienists don't have insurance, vacation and other benefits.

If you put the dental career you consider into perspective, there are really a lot of options. You need to set your priorities: are you ok with the lowest career level, do you want to build a career in the field, do you need to earn more quickly, can you go for a longer term education? These are all important to shape your final decision: you can go to college or not, you can become a specialized assistant or a dental hygienist. Ultimately, you can also consider alternative careers in the medical field.

Other related posts: Illinois Dental Hygienist Schools, Maryland Dental Assistant Training, NJ Dental Assistant Schools, Dental Assistant Programs In NY.

What Are The Factors That Influence Dental Assistant Salary?

Becoming a dental assistant is a good step to enter into the dental medical field. You will be of course interested in how you can earn more as a dental assistant. What drives a dental assistant's earnings up?

A first step you can take is to get certified. Certified assistants have a better salary. Moreover, the trick is to get additional dental certifications, like for example becoming certified to place fillings, take x-rays, do coronal polishing, take impressions and so on. All these add-up and enable you to earn a higher salary.

Another big factor that impacts the salary is experience. Dentists are willing to pay more in order to have a more experienced help. This means for them less time and energy invested into training and higher productivity.

If you can prove you have skills that are key for doing your job at a superior level, this would be great, as well. An example is the ability to persuade patients to have discipline in coming for their follow-up visits. If you can 'sell' well, within the limits of ethics, of course, then you are in the cards for a good pay.

As in every job, try to do your best. Going for the extra mile will show and you will reap the rewards, both in terms of career progression and in terms of earnings.

When you get a higher, another factor that will determine your final pay level is your negotiation skills level. This is pretty obvious, so try to prepare your case well if you want to get a higher salary.

Finally, if you would like to drive your earnings up more significantly, you can consider getting further education and becoming a specialized dental assistant, a dental hygienist or even a dentist.

A career in the dental field can be very rewarding. There is room for growth and it is only up to you how far you will take your career and your income level.

Related posts: Dental Hygienist Wage, Dental Technician Wage.

The DANB Dental Assistant Certification

There are several dental assistant certifications that you can take. It is important though to check which ones are accepted in your state. You will also have to consider this if you need to move and practice in another state. Therefore, one of the better choices is to go for a DANB dental assistant certification, where DANB stands for Dental Assisting National Board. This is because DANB is a credible organization and its certificate is recognized by over 30 states.

In order to get your DANB certification, you need to become either CDA, i.e. Certified Dental Assistant or COA, i.e. Certified Orthodontic Assistant.

There are three parts of the certified dental assistant exam:

General Chairside (GC) Exam

  • 120 multiple choice questions
  • One hour duration
  • Examples of topics: chair side procedure, clinical data recording, lab materials, application of chair side detail materials 
  • Fee: $200

Radiation Health And Safety (RHS) 

  • 100 multiple choice questions 
  • One hour and 15 minutes duration
  • Examples of topics: radiation safety for both patient and operator, radiology process 
  • RHS certification is mandatory in many states
  • Fee: $190 (including a $50 non-refundable application fee)

Infection Control (ICE) Exam

  • 100 multiple-choice questions
  • Duration: one hour and 15 minutes
  • Examples of topics: preventing cross-contamination, sterilizing procedures, maintain aseptic conditions, dental health care education

The Certified Dental Assistant Exam In One Go

There is also the option to take one test for all three parts:
  • 320 multiple-choice questions
  • Duration: four hours
  • Fee: $375
It is important that you really prepare for the exam. Study the DANB site and go through exam blueprints in order to have the right expectations. The exam is not easy and even if you have just attended a dental assistant school, you should still treat the preparation phase very seriously.

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