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It’s Time You Know the Difference Between a Dentist and a Dental Hygienist

May 2, 2017
Posted By: Dr. Russell D. Mann
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When you’re at the dentist, the person that cleans your teeth might not be your actual dentist. Instead, a dental hygienist often takes care of the “dirty work” by cleaning your teeth for inspection by the dentist. So, what’s the actual difference between these two qualified individuals?


The largest and most important difference between a dentist and a dental hygienist is education. Dentists are doctors, meaning that they go to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree and then go to four more years of dental school in order to earn certification. Dental hygienists, on the other hand, only go to school for two for four years. They earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene.

However, one key similarity between the two is licensing – both must pass several exams in order to qualify for practice in their state. Additionally, both must go to schools that have been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. When they’re successfully licensed, a dental hygienist can include the initials “RDH” after their name, which stands for registered dental hygienist. A dentist, on the other hand, will append Dr. to the front of their name.

Job Responsibilities

As you’ve probably noticed, there are certain tasks that only dentists perform at your visit. For example, only dentists can diagnose you with any sort of oral health issue. They’ll always be the ones who examine your x-rays, perform cavity repair and root canals, and prescribe you any sort medication you require.

That doesn’t mean that dental hygienists can’t help out in these tasks, however. In fact, they’ll probably be the first person you see at a visit. It’s their job to help educate you on proper oral cleaning techniques, as well as discuss your current cleaning regimen. They’ll perform a highly-skilled cleaning, which will include scraping tartar off of your teeth, giving you a fluoride rinse, and performing x-rays of your teeth. Additionally, they include checks for gingivitis or other issues and make a note of any issues they spotted so that the dentist can give them a closer look.


Unsurprisingly, dentists earn more than dental hygienists. The high cost of a dental education and the number of years spent learning about oral health ensures that dentists are true experts in their field and can be compensated accordingly. The other reason that dentists are paid more is that there are less of them. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are around double the number of dental hygienists than dentists.

As you can see, there are some pretty big differences between a dental hygienist and a dentist. However, one similarity between the two is that both will provide excellent oral health care.

Whether you’re in need of a dental cleaning, root canal, or other procedure, Dr. Mann and his team of dental hygienists can help. Just call us now to schedule an appointment.

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