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The Differences Between Dental Hygienists & Dental Assistants

Over the years the practice has been open, we’ve found that many patients don’t realize that there is a difference between the roles and responsibilities of Registered Dental Hygienists (RDHs) and Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs). In reality, they are two very different positions, yet both are extremely important to the smooth operation of a dental practice.

Training to become a Certified Dental Assistant takes approximately 9-11 months, after which a diploma or certificate is issued. Local schools which offer CDA training include Baker College, Washtenaw Community College, and Wayne County Community College.

CDAs have many responsibilities, but their typical duties are as follows:

- Taking and developing x-rays- Taking impressions of teeth for casts- Assisting the dentist during many different treatment procedures- Working with patients to explain appropriate oral health care strategies- Performing office management where needed

Becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist requires a two or four year degree; either an associate’s, or a bachelor’s. RDHs can also pursue a Master’s degree once their bachelor’s is complete. Local colleges which offer a degree in dental hygiene include Baker College, Oakland Community College, University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne County Community College, and of course, the University of Michigan.

The primary responsibilities of a Registered Dental Hygienist are:

- Collecting patients’ health histories

- Administering local anesthetics

- Removing dressings and stitches

- Removing calculus, stains, and plaque from tooth surfaces

- Cleaning and polishing teeth

- Completing charting of patients’ conditions for the dentis

t- Applying fluoride and sealants

The American Dental Hygienists Association recently established a new position called an Advanced Dental Hygiene Practitioner. This designation is still being fully developed as to scope of responsibility, but is expected to be a certification for hygienists who wish to further their dental education. We look forward to keeping tabs on this new program as the details are ironed out.


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