Dental Assistants/Hygienists; A Closer Look

16 July 2010

Without question, dental assistants are the great unsung heroes of any successful dental office. And, it’s no wonder; the smile and general demeanor of the dental assistant is often the first impression a patient gets once they are finally invited out of the waiting room and into the treatment room itself. So, for this reason alone, dental assistants and hygienists have a huge influence over how the atmosphere of a dental office is expressed to the patients, whether they are receiving a general cleaning or a major dental procedure.

However, the importance and significance of dental assistants and hygienists goes far beyond just making the patient feel comfortable. Indeed, the dental assistant or hygienist is the right-hand-man or -woman to the dentist, and, when operating in full sync with the dentist in question, almost become an extension of him or her. For instance; it is the dental assistant that will first prepare the patient for any sort of procedure, who will pull out the patient’s file for the perusal of the dentist, who will be present in the treatment room if any sort of assistance to the dentist is necessary. Indeed, whatever treatment you are undergoing, you are most likely to have more interaction with the dentist’s assistant than you are with the dentist themselves (this, of course, also allows the dentist the luxury of being able to treat more patients at once, thereby increasing efficiency and driving dental costs down).

So, at this point you may be asking yourself, “what is the difference between a dental assistant and dental hygienist, anyway?”. Well, although people often end up using both terms interchangeably, they are indeed two different things. A dental assistant’s duties include, but are not necessarily limited to; assisting the dentist during most treatment procedures, taking (and developing) dental X-rays, making sure that all the dentist’s tools are sterilized and clean, pulling and re-filing of dental records, making impression molds of patient’s teeth, teaching proper brushing and flossing techniques, and, as mentioned before, meeting with patients before and after any dental procedure. Most states will allow anyone who has completed a year-long course to receive a dental assistant’s certificate.

The dental hygienist, on the other hand, must usually receive a 2-4 year associate’s or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in order to become certified. And, along with sharing in common all of the duties and responsibilities of the dental assistant, the dental hygienist must shoulder additional responsibilities as well, including performing certain simpler dental procedures on their own. These procedures include removing calcium deposits and plague from a patient’s teeth, applying fluoride to the patient’s teeth, removing sutures and dressing after major dental procedures and administering local anesthetics as well. For this reason, the dental hygienist is often compensated more highly for his or her services, and rightly so; they are the bridge that connects the jobs of dental assistant and full-fledged dentist, many of them going on to pursue a master’s degree, or even their doctorate so that they can become dentist’s themselves.

So, there you have it; both the dental assistant and the slightly more advanced dental hygienist are indeed indispensable to the day-to-day operation and overall success of any dental practice. In fact, next time you enter the dental treatment room, why not give give your friendly dental assistant/hygienist and extra smile to let them know that you appreciate the valuable service that they provide? We here at the Oakville Place Dental Office Blog are almost positive they’ll smile right back.

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