Who’s who in dentistry?

We are frequently asked, “what’s the difference between hygienists and assistants?” and “why am I seeing the hygienist, not the dentist?”
Dentists, hygienists, and assistants all work together to provide comprehensive, quality dental care.  While their responsibilities are different, each plays an important role.
Infographic describing basic differences between dentists, hygienists, & assistants. Dentists do restorative treatment and focus on teeth; hygienists clean the mouth and focus on the health of soft tissues; and assistants help the dentist with procedures and focus on patient comfort. 


A dentist undergoes extensive education and licensing through dental school.  Dentists are also required to take continuing education classes each year.  They focus on the growth and development of the whole mouth, particularly the teeth and bony structures.  Dentists provide restorative care, endodontic treatment, and oral surgery when needed. 


Dental hygienists also receive a thorough education before earning a license to practice.  Like dentists, hygienists are required to attend continuing education courses every year. Hygienists specialize in preventative care, and focus especially on the soft tissues in the mouth.


Dental assistants are focused on patient comfort.  They can help the dentist with all procedures or aid the hygienist with preventative care.  Assistants themselves can provide limited preventative care as well.  Depending on state laws, dental assistants attend assisting certificate programs or may be trained in office.