Dental hygienists are qualified to inspect and clean the teeth, gums, and mouth. They often take care of preliminary work for the dentist, including an initial oral inspection and the taking of x-rays. By examining developed x-ray images, dental hygienists can spot developing problems such as cracks in teeth. Dental hygienists are also specially trained to look for the warning signs of oral cancer. They usually explain what they have learned to the dentist before the dentist begins work on a patient.
Dental assistants, on the other hand, are more like an extra set of hands and eyes for the dentist. They are often nearby during the dentist’s examination, ready to assist at a moment’s notice. They may help review inventories and new shipments, prepare instruments for the dentist to use, and perform various other upkeep duties. One of the dental assistant’s most important jobs is to speak with patients and calm them down if they need to relax. Dental assistants also often take care of many day-to-day patient issues, such as answering questions and preparing any special treatments that people with medical conditions may need before a procedure.
Both the dental hygienist and the dental assistant report to the dentist, whose job it ultimately is to make the judgment calls and provide advanced treatments. Whereas a dental hygienist always does roughly the same job at any practice, however, a dental assistant molds his or her actions to the specifics of the workplace. Dental assistants can therefore specialize in any of a number of different ways, depending on what is required of them.
About the author: Christopher Lillo is a partner as well as Vice President at Oak Ridge Dental, a private dentistry practice in New Jersey. As Vice President of the operation, Christopher Lillo’s daily duties include management of a support staff that includes a dental hygienist and two dental assistants.