If you are going in for a dental cleaning, you probably think that the only employees you will see are hygienists and dentists. However, you will likely be meeting with a dental assistant for most of the time. Read on to learn more about the differences between hygienists and assistants and who you should schedule an appointment with.
Different Schooling Requirements
Dental assistants often take entry-level positions in dental offices, as many can be trained on the job. However, because the dentistry sector is growing, these positions have become more competitive, so there are one-year certificates and associates degrees available. Some dentists won't train assistants and will expect them to be a certified dental assistant (CDA) by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
Registered Dental Hygienists usually take four years of school, although there are some associate programs too.
Dental assistants have a variety of duties, such as
- Welcoming patients
- Taking x-rays
- Reviewing and inputting medical records into the computers
- Setting up exam rooms and cleaning them afterward
- Assisting the dentist and hygienist by handing them instruments
- Assisting the front office with insurance claims
- Preparing dental materials and molds
- Sterilizing dirty instruments
As you can see, dental assistants are needed all over the office and have a variety of tasks.
Dental hygienists on the other hand mainly focus on prophylaxis ("prophys"), or preventative cleanings. Prophys are your yearly or six-month cleanings where the hygienist polishes your teeth and looks for periodontal disease and oral cancer. Because hygienists have received additional schooling, they are the only ones allowed to identify and remove calculus on the teeth and gums.
Can Assistants Ever Do Prophys?
While each state has its own dental regulations concerning the scope of duties for an assistant, assistants aren't allowed to do prophys. However, many dental assistants can expand their roles and raise their salaries by becoming expanded function dental auxiliaries (EFDAs). EFDAs take additional schooling — often a semester — after they've worked in a dental office and have gained experience. EFDAs also have to receive certification in their state.
EFDAs can do things like
- Carve and place amalgam
- Finish and place composites
- Take final impressions
- Remove temporary crowns
- Apply fluoride treatments
- Apply sealants
- Apply anesthesia or pain medication
If you are scheduling your first appointment, make sure you are clear whether or not you want your teeth cleaned. You will want a registered dental hygienist in your area to do this work. However, if you are just having a follow-up visit for other concerns, it's certainly fine to see an assistant or EFDA and the dentist.
For more information, contact a company like Legacy Dental Arts.