Dentist or hygienist: Do you know the difference?

Regular visits to your Delta Dental network dentist will keep you on the right track to great oral health…and overall health is directly tied to oral health. 

But do you know when you visit the dentist you likely are also seeing a dental hygienist? Do you know the difference between the two? Let’s check it out. 


Dental hygienists   

Typically, you will see a dental hygienist when having cleanings and other preventive care. 

During your appointment, your dental hygienist will answer any questions you may have and can give advice for practicing good oral hygiene. Hygienists can also explain the role of nutrition in maintaining your oral health. 

Your hygienist prepares you for the dentist by performing other important work. They will: 

  • Conduct an initial screening of your mouth for signs of oral health issues. 
  • Complete a thorough cleaning of your teeth. 
  • Take X-rays and apply preventive materials like sealants and fluoride, if required. 
  • Depending on their training and the state where they practice, your hygienist may have other expanded functions. 

A dental hygienist has an important role, one that requires attention to detail, great communication skills, and an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. The degree must come from a program that is approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. 



Dentists are doctors that specialize in oral health. During your appointment, they examine your mouth, then diagnose and create treatment plans to maintain or restore your oral health. Your dentist will also take the lead on anything else that is needed, including: 

  • Interpreting X-rays and diagnostic tests. 
  • Performing procedures such as filling cavities, placing implants and crowns, and extracting teeth. 
  • Treating dental emergencies or injuries. 

Your dentist’s educational background makes them an excellent source of information on your oral health and how it may interact with your overall health. 

Earning a doctorate requires an undergraduate degree plus four years of dental school. 

Upon graduating dental school, a dentist will receive a doctorate of dental surgery (DDS) or doctorate of dental medicine (DMD). Both degrees include the same training. 

Many dentists continue with years of additional training in a focus area such as oral surgery, pediatric dentistry, periodontics, endodontics (root canals), or another specialty. 


Working together for oral health 

Together, your dental hygienist and dentist work to reduce risk for cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and other health risks.  

For more information on oral health, visit, or  

You can also check out Delta Dental’s Grin! Magazine for more great content like this.  

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