Dental Hygienist Salary and Career Resource

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There Really Is A Difference between a Dental Hygienist vs. Dental Assistant

It seems as though the majority of the population isn’t really aware of who the registered dental assistants and who the registered dental hygienists in the office are.  Those that do actually know the difference still only know the difference by the “one who helps the dentist” and the “one who cleans my teeth” typically with little knowledge about the educational requirements or job descriptions of each one.

If you are considering entering the dental profession it is essential to truly KNOW the difference! This article will focus on the duties of the Registered Dental Assistant.

General Overview of RDA Duties


RDA’s are a very essential part to making the day run smoothly (and productive) for the dental practice and in particular, the dentist they assist!  They will be responsible for setting up all necessary instruments, cameras, lasers, etc for the dental procedure.  They will keep the operatories clean and fully stocked, take x-rays, document diagnosed and existing treatment in the patient chart (paper or electronic), sterilize instruments, and pass the dentist the instruments during exams and procedures.

Dental Assistants are often the one who will assist the patient back to the operatory and get them comfortable, review medical/dental history, and address any chief complaints before the dentist ever steps into the room.  Assistants also take impressions for dental appliances, make temporary crowns, apply topical anesthetic prior to local anesthetic. Dental assistants Registered Dental Assistants are a very valued part of the dental team!


The educational requirements for a Registered Dental Assistant are less than that of a dental hygienist and vary from state to state. The “registered” part actually comes from taking the state certification exam issued by the state board of dental examiners after the student graduates from an accredited dental assisting program.

These programs teach the basics of radiography, instrument identification, and dental terminology.  Most programs include a hands-on internship at a dental practice because as we all know, there is a lot more to learn than could ever be taught in a classroom!

Expanded Duties

There are additional certifications that dental assistants can acquire including nitrous oxide monitoring, coronal polishing, and even sealant placement.  Most programs can be completed in about 3 months and there are even some available online.  These extra certifications would be done after the regular program was complete.


The salary for a dental assistant varies greatly based primarily on experience and location.  Location seems to be the biggest factor.  I personally know very good registered dental assistant that barely make $12/hour and some in larger urban areas are making closer to $20/hour.

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