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Dentist or Dental Hygienist? What is the difference?

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The dental industry holds many dental jobs, both at the entry–levels, which have lesser requirements and higher levels, which require high skills, education, training, and expertise. Among the higher levels are jobs as dental specialists such as dentists and dental hygienists. With many dental opportunities today, these professions can be a great doorway to an outstanding career. Let's take a closer look at the differences between these two careers.

Nature of the Work
The responsibilities of the dentist are to diagnose, treat teeth problems and problems in the tissues of the mouth. They also give advice and administer care to patients to help prevent these problems in the future. They provide instructions on brushing, diet, use of fluorides, flossing and other dental care aspects. They fill cavities, remove tooth decays, straighten the teeth, examine x-rays of the oral cavity, repair fractured teeth and place protective sealants on the teeth. They also perform surgeries that can correct the gums and the supporting bones. In addition, they replace missing teeth by making measurements and models for dentures. Lastly, they write prescriptions and administer anesthetics for antibiotics and other medications. Like any other health care professionals, dentists educate their patients about proper oral care.

Dentists use different kinds of equipments, such as drills, forceps, x-ray machines, mouth mirrors, scalpels, probes, and brushes. To protect themselves and their patients from contagious diseases, they wear gloves, masks, and safety glasses.

On the other hand, dental hygienists remove hard and soft deposits from the teeth and educate patients on the proper oral hygiene. They examine the teeth and gums of the patients and record presence of any abnormalities or diseases. They sometimes diagnose oral disorders and prepare laboratory diagnostic exams for dentists to interpret.

Tools used by dental hygienists are ultrasonic devices, rotary, and hand instruments to polish and clean teeth, including removing stains, plaque, and calculus. In some States, dental hygienists perform procedures such as removal of sutures, periodontal dressing, placing, and carving of filling materials, smoothing and polishing of metal restorations.

Education and training
Prior to admittance, Dental schools require a pre-dental education of at least 2 years. Before entering dental schools, most of the students already have a bachelor's degree in fields that are nursing or medicine related. Even those applicants who are in their 3rd or 4th year in college can enter dental school while they are continuing with their degree.

Dentistry usually takes 4 academic years. The first 2 years are usually in a classroom setting taking up minor subjects and subjects related to the human anatomy. In the last 2 years students have on-the-job trainings, and will be assigned in dental clinics, under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

For dental hygienists, college entrance test and high school diploma are required for admission to a program in dental hygiene. Some of the dental hygiene programs require at least 1 year in college before admission. Most of the programs in dental hygiene grant an associate degree, while some schools offer bachelor's degree and master's degree. Minimum requirement for one to practice in a private dental office is a certificate or an associate degree in dental hygiene. A bachelor's degree or master's degree is usually required for teaching, research, and clinical practice in schools or public health programs.

A license is the basic requirement for a dentistry graduate before practicing as a dentist. In addition to completing a degree from a dental school, licensure requires passing practical and written examinations.

Dental hygienists are also required to have a license before they can practice their profession. They are also required to pass both clinical and written examination.

In 2006, dentists held about 161,000 dental jobs as orthodontists, general dentists, and maxillofacial and oral surgeons. One-third of the population of dentists was self-employed. Some worked in private practice and some in offices of physicians and hospitals.

On the other hand, in 2006, dental hygienists held about 167,000 jobs. Most of the dental hygienists worked in the offices of dentists and a small number worked in offices of physicians, employment services and other industries.

In May 2006, the estimated median annual earnings of dentists were $136,960. Their earnings vary according to locations, specialty, hours worked and number of years in practice. For dental hygienists, the estimated median hourly earnings were $30.19. Their earnings also vary by years of experience, employment setting, and geographic location.

The employment of both dentists and dental hygienists is expected to grow in the years to come because the demand for dentals services is projected to increase continuously. Careers related to dental hygiene, and dentists rank among the rapidly growing occupations and the prospects of the job are predicted to remain excellent in the years to come. The general population is growing, mostly the older population, which will eventually increase the demand for dental care. Because the demand for dental jobs and services continues to rise, this makes the dental industry a perfect career for everyone.
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