Dentists and dental hygienists: Do you know the difference?

Your dentist and dental hygienist are trained professional that work together to help you achieve and maintain your oral health. But not everyone knows what separates each role. Let’s learn the difference between two experts who protect your smile.

Dental hygienists  

During your appointment, your dental hygienist will answer any questions you may have. They can give you advice for practicing good oral hygiene and explain the role of nutrition in maintaining your oral health, for example.

Your hygienist also prepares you for the dentist by performing other important work. They will:

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    Conduct an initial screening of your mouth for signs of oral health issues.

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    Complete a thorough cleaning of your teeth.

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    Take X-rays and apply preventive materials like sealants and fluoride, if required.

Depending on their training and the state where they practice, your hygienist may have other expanded functions.

A dental hygienist has an important role, one that requires attention to detail, great communication skills, and an associate or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. The degree must come from a program that is approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.


Dentists are doctors that specialize in oral health. During your appointment, they examine your mouth, then diagnose and create treatment plans to maintain or restore your oral health. 

Your dentist will also take the lead on anything else that is needed. They will:

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    Interpret X-rays and diagnostic tests.

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    Perform procedures such as filling cavities, placing implants and crowns, and extracting teeth.

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    Treat dental emergencies or injuries.

Your dentist’s educational background makes them an excellent source of information on your oral health and how it may interact with your overall health.

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    Earning a doctorate requires an undergraduate degree plus four years of dental school.

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    Upon graduating dental school, a dentist will receive a doctorate of dental surgery (DDS) or doctorate of dental medicine (DMD). Both degrees include the same training.

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    Many dentists continue with years of additional training in a focus area such as oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, endodontics (root canals), or another specialty.

A dynamic dental duo

Your dental hygienist and dentist work together to reduce risk for cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and other health risks. Either one would be happy to answer any questions you have about taking care of your oral health. Make sure you attend your regularly scheduled appointments so they can safeguard your smile!

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