Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist? Which is Right for You?

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In these tough economic times, choosing the career path that’s right for you can be a challenge. If you’ve always leaned toward a career in dentistry, but lacked the desire (or the funds) to go to dental school and become a dentist, there are two options open to you: Dental Assistant or Dental Hygienist.

As a high school grad, you may have chosen the Dental Assistant route because it offered an easy entry into the field without requiring a college degree. All you needed to get the job and start earning money was a dental school certification. The job wasn’t too demanding. You simply helped the dentist with treatment procedures, prepping equipment and doing light office chores. Your office duties may have required you to learn some accounting and medical software, and perhaps an office suite like Microsoft Office. The salary was okay, but commensurate with your high school education. However, now, you’re ready to move up in the field. You want to do more and earn more.  So what lies ahead for you? Dental Hygienist.

More Education, More Responsibility, More Pay.

As Dental Hygienist, you’ll typically earn about twice what you’re making now. To become one, you’ll need an Associate's degree or preferably a Bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. You may also need additional certifications based on the state in which you’re working. While your administrative and office duties will shrink, your responsibilities will broaden to include more clinical work. You’ll remove stony deposits, stains and plaque from teeth, make molds of teeth, apply fluorides, administer local anesthetics, and remove sutures and dressings. You may also be involved in charting patients' dental conditions. If you’re still young and on the move, the best-paying metro areas for Dental Hygienists are San Francisco, New Haven, and Vallejo.

Other Factors: Pros and Cons

Unlike Dental Assistants, Dental Hygienists usually have a more flexible work schedule. You may only be required to come in a few times a week. You may also be given the choice of working evenings, weekends or even part-time. There’s even flexibility in where you work. Instead of working in a dental office, you’ll have the option of working in research facilities, government agencies or the public school/health system. The downside of being a Dental Hygienist may or may not suit your career needs. For example, as a part time worker, you may be denied the full health benefit packages of a full-time employee. A recent article entitled Survey: Dental hygienists scramble for health insurance noted that half of dental hygienists get their health insurance through a working family member’s plan. Most dental hygienists only work part-time because full-time jobs simply aren't available in this segment. If you need a full time job with health benefits, you should make it a point to keep up with the latest dental accounting and medical software, as well as office suites like Microsoft Office. So when you’re not performing Dental Hygiene duties, you can be useful as an office assistant or office manager.

If you’re thinking of moving up from Dental Assistant to Dental Hygienist, consider the pros and cons of your move.


Image courtesy of artur84/


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