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dental student at the dental clinic

The Dental Assistant works under the supervision of dentists and possesses a wide range of technical skills. Responsibilities of a dental assistant include patient care, administrative duties, and laboratory functions.

The dental assistant performs many tasks requiring both interpersonal and technical skills. Although state regulations vary, responsibilities may include:

  • assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
  • taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
  • asking about the patient's medical history and taking blood pressure and pulse
  • serving as an infection control officer, developing infection control protocol and preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
  • helping patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatment
  • providing patients with instructions for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment procedures, such as the placement of a restoration (filling)
  • teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health (e.g., toothbrushing, flossing and nutritional counseling)
  • taking impressions of patients' teeth for study casts (models of teeth)
  • performing office management tasks that often require the use of a personal computer
  • communicating with patients and suppliers (e.g., scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, billing and ordering supplies)
  • helping to provide direct patient care in all dental specialties, including orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics and oral surgery.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     (January 2013, some information retrieved from

The Dental Hygienist is a licensed dental professional who specializes in preventing and treating oral disease. Dental hygienists focus on health promotion and disease prevention. The scope of their work extends beyond the oral cavity as many diseases will manifest in the oral cavity. 

In order to obtain licensure, the dental hygienist must be a graduate of an accredited institution and pass multiple examinations. Dental hygienists are able to work in private practice dental offices, public health clinics, educational institutions, research facilities, and sales positions.

Each state determines the scope of practice for dental hygienists. Generally, dental hygienists are able to:

  • assess, diagnose, plan, implement, evaluate, and document treatment for the prevention, intervention, and control of oral diseases in collaboration with other health professionals
  • expose, process, and interpret dental radiographs (x-rays)
  • remove biofilm (plaque) and calculus (tartar) from above and below the gumline
  • apply cavity-preventive agents such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth
  • administer local anesthetic and/or nitrous oxide analgesia (in some states)
  • educate patients on proper oral hygiene techniques to maintain healthy teeth and gums
  • counsel patients about biofilm (plaque) control and developing individualized at-home oral hygiene programs
  • administer smoking cessation programs
  • counsel patients on the importance of good nutrition for maintaining optimal oral health

Adapted from