Dental hygienist vs. Dentist (Meaning, Roles, Sim & Diff)

Often, when you visit a dental clinic, the first person you meet is the dental hygienist. Just as there are doctors and nurses in hospitals, there are dentists and dental hygienists in dental clinics/offices.

Understanding the roles each of the two medical professionals plays can help you be more relaxed on your next visit.

Dental hygienist vs. Dentist

Who is a Dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist is an oral health practitioner behind the prevention and treatment of oral diseases. Dental hygienists do a lot of work on their own, with only the overall supervision of an authorized dentist.

However, their work relieves the dentist of a large amount of work, allowing them to focus on more complex operations.

As a result, it is extremely typical for dental hygienists to perform a variety of preventative dental procedures in a dental clinic, such as teeth cleaning, oral disease screening, and other preventive dental care.

They also instruct patients on various methods they could use to enhance and sustain good oral health. Cleaning, scaling, root planting, and sealants are among procedures that dental hygienists are skilled in.

Even though dental hygienists are different to a great extent from nurses, one can still think of them as dentistry nurse alternatives when set side by side with oral health care practitioners in other medical fields.

Like the registered nurses, dental hygienists must write panel exams and have an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology. Moreover, they are officially called Registered Dental Hygienists (RDH).

Dental hygienist vs. Dentist

Who is a Dentist?

A dentist is a medical practitioner that works in the field of dentistry. The work involves treating infections or diseases in the mouth, teeth, gums, and other related areas.

Research suggests that diseases associated with the teeth and gums can be signs of other health problems. Moreover, the health of the mouth is vital to the health of the whole body.

A dentist’s work is to motivate and help patients keep a healthy mouth by frequent cleaning and check-ups. A Dentist can also be called a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).

Dental hygienist vs. Dentist: Similarities

Regardless of the numerous differences between the training and duties of dental hygienists and dentists, both professions need special examinations to provide important services for the welfare of the patient.

Similar to hygienists, dentists must possess a license to practice.

Dental hygienist vs. Dentist: Differences

Duration of study:

When it involves determining the distinction between a dentist and a dental hygienist, one takes least eight years of academics (4 years in undergraduate level, another 4 in dental school, and some extra years if they so wish to specialize), while the other takes between two and four years.

Roles and Specialization

A dental hygienist may choose to work in a Periodontist’s practice. This does not ultimately make him or her a periodontal hygienist.

Few dentists earn additional education after dental school that enables them to specialize and cater for selected conditions in patients.

A Periodontist, who places attention on diseased gum treatment and treatment of other gum-related issues, is a type of dental specialist.

What does a Dental Hygienist do?

A dental hygienist is on hand to provide preventive care and help you avoid further problems. Dental hygienists use X-ray machines to scan the teeth and gums, rinse a patient’s mouth with fluoride, and apply sealants to the teeth to prevent tooth decay.

The hygienist provides tips on how to take care of one’s teeth, tips on proper brushing and flossing, and foods to avoid or eat for a healthy mouth.

The job requires independence, seeing patients for precautionary care and supplying ideas on things like oral hygiene, nutrition, and checking for noticeable signs of oral cancer or periodontitis.

However, dental hygienists are overseen and headed by dentists. They can examine their patients and render advice to them, provided that they still visit a dentist for an oral examination at least once a year.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Licensed Dental Hygienist:

Licensed dental hygienists clean a patient’s teeth during a routine exam by brushing and removing coats and stains. In addition, they shine the teeth and note down dental conditions.

After performing the examination procedures, they perform precautionary dental hygiene care, check blood pressure, and review their medical history.

They also guide the patient on the proper home dental care. Ultimately, a dental hygienist supports the dentist with procedures such as tooth extraction.

At the same time, anytime the hygienist sights a potential problem, he/she gives the data generated to the dentist.

What does a Dentist do?

A dental hygienist notices a problem in a patient’s mouth and signifies a dentist or Periodontist because he or she can’t diagnose the troubling issue.

This task is solely performed by the dentist, who then provides a remedy and guides the patient to accomplish their oral fitness goals.

Dentists are capable of performing every activity that a dental hygienist can do and even extra.

However, supposing a dental hygienist runs an X-rays scan and observes that something looks strange, the dentist is the only one to officially identify the condition and tell the patient the next step to take.

Roles and Responsibilities of a Dentist: 

Dentists run the health facility and perform treatments such as fillings, canals, administering sedation, extraction, and gum surgery.

They examine a patient’s data, which the dental hygienist in advance collected. Also, they distinguish between dental illnesses and chewing issues.

Lastly, they make referrals to professionals, including oral surgeons and Orthodontists, on every occasion that necessitates it.

When a patient requests an enamel fix or extraction, they must visit a dentist. No other dental practitioner is legally approved to treat or reconstruct physical damage on a tooth.

Dental hygienist vs. Dentist: Career Path

Like clinical doctors, a dentist has a minimum of 8 years of schooling before turning into a doctor. Hygienists do not. To aspire to become a dental hygienist, one must choose either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s diploma in dental hygiene.

Even with an associate diploma, you will possibly have approximately 1-2 years’ worth of prerequisites to take (which is equivalent to the ones nurses require, such as A&P, Microbiology, Chemistry, etc).

As soon as one is done with those mentioned above, they spend two more years in hygiene school. Moeover, they attend to patients and master such things as pharmacology, dental materials, oral pathology, etc.

After college, each dental hygienist must write a national panel examination (that requires up to 6-8 hours to complete) and a state medical panel examination, where expert hygienists assess them.

Other states have introduced licensure exams, including nitrous oxide (guffawing gas) supervision, nearby anesthesia dispenser, regulations/law requirements, etc. 

Dental Hygienist Training Requirements:

Both associate degrees (two years) and bachelor’s degrees (four years) prepare students to take the exam and become qualified dental hygienists.

What matters most is that the system in which one participates must be approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Moreover, after finishing a diploma program, an aspiring hygienist must pass another examination to gain the approval to practice within his or her state.

A certified hygienist can now add the initials “RDH” after their name, which stands for Registered Dental Hygienist.

Dentist Training Requirements:

On the other hand, Dentists require a few extra years of schooling before practicing legally as dentists. Attending a dental school is a must for all aspiring dentists.

To be eligible for dental school, the student aspirant will be required to handle many science courses at every stage in their undergraduate levels. If someone aims to be a well-known dentist, then he or she must earn a dental degree.

Dentists who wish to specialize will have to finish some extra years of tutelage, typically like a residency program. Depending on the specialty, a residency program can last up to two or four years.

Dentists are also required to acquire a license from their state to be allowed to work. In addition, dental specialists must also get a license in their respective specialty.


Dentists are typical doctors who have more educational qualifications and experience than dental hygienists. They generally tend to be in school for a long time because their responsibilities are much.

As the length of the program is long for dentists, so is also their pay. By considering the salaries earned by the two professions, becoming a dentist is a better choice.

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