Dentists, Hygienists and Assistants: What’s the Big Difference?

When you visit your dental office, there are a lot staff you might interact with. It’s completely normal to think to yourself, “Who does what?” While Dentists, Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists are all there to achieve the same goal—a healthy smile for all of their patients—each position plays a different role, and requires varying levels of education and training.


Dental Assisting is the quick career path into the dental industry. Graduates are often hired at dental offices soon after completing their programs, due to an increasing demand for the profession in recent years. To become a Dental Assistant, you’ll need to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs take about a year to complete, and are offered at career-training colleges or vocational schools.

Dental Hygienist programs typically take three years to complete, and most require applicants to have completed one year of college. Courses ranging from anatomy to medical ethics give them the skills to work alongside dentists, but in a more independent fashion than a Dental Assistant.

As for Dentists, it takes a lot of time—and even more determination. In fact, to enter most dental schools, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree already. Admission to dental school is competitive; tests, along with grade point average, interviews, and recommendations are all considered during the admission process. Overall, the education takes about eight years to complete.


As you lay back in your chair at the dental office, you’re greeted by a friendly voice and a smile. The Dental Assistant asks how you’ve been taking care of your teeth as she sets up the Dentist’s workstation. She then leads you to another room to take x-rays. As you leave the office, the Dental Assistant might help you set your next appointment. This is what a Dental Assistant’s afternoon could look like.

The Dental Hygienist is likely the next face you see during your visit. While Dentists handle most major procedures, Dental Hygienists are responsible for cleaning teeth and examining patients for oral diseases. They also work to educate patients about oral hygiene techniques.

Though Dentists take on a leadership role in the dental office, they still perform medical procedures when needed. Typically, dentists perform tasks like repairing cracked or fractured teeth, removing decay and filling cavities, and prescribing medications.

If you’re interested in a dental career, don’t wait to get started! IBMC College offers fast, hands-on training that could have you working in a dental office in a little over a year. View our dental programs page to see what you can achieve, or call 1-800-NEW-CAREER now.