General |4 min read

Oral Healthcare Professions: Dentist vs. Dental Hygienist


When it comes to oral health care, it’s essential to understand the roles of both dentists and dental hygienists.

The question of which one you should see depends on your specific needs.

Our blog post breaks down each position and explains its important role in helping patients achieve optimal oral health. Whether you’re grappling with a toothache, in need of routine cleaning, or considering a complex dental procedure, read on to understand the roles and expertise of both dental hygienists and dentists.

Who is a dentist?

A dentist is a medical professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating oral health problems. These can range from cavities, gum diseases, oral infections, and teeth alignment issues. 

Dentists are highly trained professionals who have earned a doctoral degree in dentistry. They are equipped to perform procedures such as fillings, extractions, root canals, and dental implants. They also oversee the overall oral health of patients, create treatment plans, and provide comprehensive dental care.

Who is a dental hygienist?

A dental hygienist, on the other hand, focuses primarily on preventive oral care. Also highly trained, a dental hygienist is a licensed oral health professional who works closely with the dentist. They conduct cleanings, apply sealants, perform examinations for signs of oral diseases, and educate patients on good oral hygiene practices.

Education and training

Let’s look at the education required for both professions.

Dentist’s education

To become a dentist, one must complete a bachelor’s degree and four years in dental school to earn a doctor of dental surgery (DDS) or doctor of dental medicine (DMD). This is often followed by more specialization and training.

Dental hygienist’s education

Becoming a dental hygienist typically requires a two-year associate degree program, although some pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene.

Job responsibilities

While both professions work together for overall oral health, their responsibilities differ.

Dentist’s responsibilities

Dentists diagnose and treat oral health issues, conduct oral surgeries, prescribe medication, and oversee their patients’ overall oral healthcare plan.

Dental hygienist’s responsibilities

Dental hygienists are typically responsible for cleaning teeth, examining patients for oral diseases, providing preventive care, and educating patients on maintaining and improving their oral health.

Salary comparison

In general, dentists earn a higher income than dental hygienists because of the complexity of their responsibilities and the extended length of their education.

Job outlook and growth

Both professions are expected to see growth, but the rate varies. The demand for dental hygienists is expected to grow faster based on an increased emphasis on preventive care.

Personal satisfaction and lifestyle

While dentists often have a more hectic schedule, dental hygienists tend to have more regular working hours, which may result in a better work-life balance.


What is the main difference between a dental hygienist and a dentist?

The main difference lies in their expertise, roles, and responsibilities: dentists are trained to diagnose and treat oral health issues, while dental hygienists focus on preventive care and oral hygiene education.

Who earns more, a dentist or a dental hygienist?

Generally, dentists earn more than dental hygienists because of their job’s expert knowledge requirement, greater complexity, and responsibilities.

Is the education for a dentist longer than that for a dental hygienist?

Yes, becoming a dentist typically requires more education and training than becoming a dental hygienist.

Who has a better work-life balance, a dentist or a dental hygienist?

While it varies by individual and workplace, dental hygienists often have more regular working hours, potentially offering a better work-life balance.

Is the job outlook good for both dentists and dental hygienists?

Yes, both professions are expected to grow, with dental hygienists seeing a slightly faster growth rate because of the increased emphasis on preventive care.


While dentists and dental hygienists play crucial roles in oral healthcare, their education, responsibilities, salary, job outlook, and lifestyle implications differ.

Dental hygienists primarily focus on preventative care and cleanings, while dentists provide comprehensive oral health care. Depending on your requirements, you may need to see both professionals as part of your dental care team to maintain optimal oral health. 


Lance Collier, DMD, LLC is located in Columbus, GA, and we happily welcome folks from neighboring areas.