For some people, this is something that can cause confusion but they are completely different things although in some way the three are related. For no reason should it be thought that they are the same or that the difference is simply a matter of training stages or organizational hierarchies at work within a dental office or clinic.
And what are the basic differences between the three occupations?
The dentist completes a university degree, which takes approximately four years or more.
Dental hygienist studies take approximately two years, and although some subjects are also taken by the dentist, it cannot be said that they are the same.
The dental assistant, as the name of the position indicates, assists the dentist in his work, and prepares the required instruments and devices as well as the patient to receive the treatments that the doctor indicates but never performs directly.
Who we commonly know as a dentist should be called a dentist, which is the correct and well-deserved name of someone who successfully completed a university degree in dentistry. And once he has obtained this degree, there are specialities such as:
- It refers to the different treatments and procedures performed on the root canals of the teeth, whose correct name is dental organs. This type of procedure is required when there are dental injuries that affect not only the tooth enamel but also reach a greater depth, causing internal deterioration of the tooth, which, if not treated properly, can cause irreparable loss.
- Prosthodontics or oral rehabilitation. It is responsible for restoring all of its functions to the oral cavity, and not only those related to chewing but also with regard to:
- Implantology. It refers to the study and solution of problems due to missing teeth. The use of implants is not the same as wearing a prosthesis, since the implant is a piece that is fixed to the bone using bolts and screws made of special materials such as titanium, so they are definitive solutions. It is a speciality that maintains tireless research to be able to offer increasingly better procedures, techniques and materials so that there is no rejection or deterioration, neither in the implants nor in the patient’s body.
- This speciality is directly responsible for studying, preventing and diagnosing any anomaly regarding dental and maxillofacial structures through the use of different devices that apply and regulate force or pressure to correct the different problems that may arise.
- It is a medical-surgical speciality for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of all those tissues that are in some way related to the teeth, providing them with support. This is the case for gums, periodontal ligaments, alveolar bones, root cements, etc., both in natural teeth and in the case of implants. It is also known as periodontology.
- Pediatric dentistry. It is the dental branch that focuses on treating oral problems in children.
- Geriatric Dentistry. It is dedicated to the care of geriatric patients (older adults).
- Cosmetic or aesthetic dentistry. This speciality tries to care for and correct oral health focused on the image of the teeth.
- Preventive dentistry.
- Forensic odontology. It is a speciality that is gaining greater importance day by day since it does not only refer to the identification of a body through its dental records but also has very diverse applications regarding the solution of different cases. Through this speciality, it is possible to identify not only the victim but very often also the perpetrator, detect cases of abuse of various types, determine age, etc.
- Stomatological public health. This speciality is of great importance since it is responsible for research, planning, prevention and analysis of oral health at the community level. Therefore, it has a great focus when it comes to care policies and models, health campaigns, etc.
To practice any of these specialities, as we have already mentioned before, it is necessary to complete a university degree in dentistry and subsequently specialize by completing the corresponding studies.
It is also known as a Senior Oral Hygiene Technician. This means that this is a person with higher technical level studies, which qualifies him or her to perform some work directly in the patient’s mouth, all of which is completely reversible. This means that although his preparation does not enable him to do everything that a dentist does, he can perform care tasks and intervene in the following procedures and/or activities:
- dental and root cleanings
- Ultrasound cleanings
- Application of topical anaesthesia
- Fluoride application
- Application of teeth whitening or stain removal treatments.
- Assistance and/or collaboration in dental surgeries.
- Care functions with orthodontic specialists. They can place braces, and make changes to ligatures and others, but always by indication and/or supervision of the specialist.
- X-rays. Taking, developing and interpreting plates.
- Guidance on education and dental hygiene.
- Application of dental sealants.
- Some administrative functions, epidemiological studies and others.
In some countries, there are specific rules and regulations that cover in detail the specific functions of the dental hygienist.
An oral hygienist takes subjects such as health education, nutrition, pharmacology, anatomy, microbiology, biostatistics, health documentation and some others. The degree takes approximately two years and a certification is required to occupy the position.
The dental assistant job description may vary depending on the doctor and/or clinic in question. Their duties range from only assisting the doctor when caring for patients and may also include reception, filing, maintenance of material and instruments, and patient preparation. Do not intervene directly in the procedures.
Dental assistant studies last approximately one year.
As you can see, these are very different things, so it is possible that when you go to the dental clinic you will find that there are reception staff, hygienists, assistants and specialist doctors, all working in close collaboration but with totally different and well-defined occupations.