Understanding the Difference Between Your Dentist and Hygienist

What to expect at your next appointment

There can be some confusion between dentists and dental hygienists. You’ll often find both working at your dental practice. Each professional plays a distinct role and both are crucial team members. Dentists and dental hygienists complement one another in the practices they offer. Visiting both the dentist and the dental hygienist should be part of your dental maintenance routine. 

Read on to discover the differences between dentists and dental hygienists and how often you should schedule a visit. 

The Cambridge Dictionary offers the following definitions:

Dentist: A person whose job is treating people’s teeth.

Dental Hygienist: A person who works with a dentist and cleans people’s teeth to keep them healthy.

These definitions help show the difference between the two roles, although they work closely together. In summary, dental hygienists specialise in improving oral hygiene and preventative measures, whereas dentists treat existing problems and emergencies.


Dentists are responsible for medical oral healthcare. The treatments that a dentist is responsible for carrying out include: 

  • Routine check-ups: Regular appointments to assess oral health and suggest treatments or preventative care.
  • Fillings: Removing tooth decay and replacing it with restorative materials.
  • Root canals: Cleaning and sealing the root canal to preserve the tooth.
  • Extractions: Removing damaged or decaying teeth. 
  • Fitting dentures: Replacing missing teeth with specially designed prosthetic elements. 
  • X-rays: Capturing detailed images of the teeth and jaw using radiation.
  • Local anaesthetics for surgery: Administering numbing agents, usually via injections, to prevent pain and discomfort during procedures. 
  • Cosmetic dentistry: Treatments carried out as part of a smile makeover. 
  • Fitting braces: Fitting technology that corrects misaligned teeth. 
  • Leading a dental team: Managing and overseeing the dental practice’s team to achieve the best results. 

Your dentist may refer you to a dental hygienist if you need treatments such as: 

  • Cleaning teeth: Removing plaque or calcified plaque from teeth to prevent gum disease and cavities.
  • Polishing teeth: Enhancing the appearance of teeth, buffing and shining.
  • Stain removal: Eliminating stains caused by coffee and tobacco.
  • Identifying and treating gum disease: addressing conditions such as periodontitis.
  • Oral health advice: Providing guidance on maintaining a healthy smile. 

Education and Training 

In the UK, people training to be dentists must complete a five-year undergraduate degree and an additional one to two years of postgraduate training. Conducting such an extensive education and training programme prepares dentists to carry out a number of medical products. It equips them with a comprehensive knowledge of how to solve dental issues. 

Dental Hygienist training usually includes completing an undergraduate degree in oral hygiene or a Level 3 or 4 Apprenticeship in Dental Care. The focus of the training is on dental hygiene and excellent oral care. 

How often to book an appointment

If you are in need of emergency care or are experiencing severe tooth pain, contact your dentist to book an appointment as soon as possible.

Generally, it may be recommended that you visit your dentist for a general checkup every six months. Children should see the dentist every six months due to issues developing faster in children’s teeth. 

Scheduling trips to see the dental hygienist between your dentist appointments is a great idea. If possible, book a visit to your hygienist every six months to stay on top of your oral hygiene. Your dentist or hygienist may suggest more regular appointments if you are working with them to prevent or treat gum disease. 

Gum disease can be caused by poor oral hygiene, smoking or even genetics. Symptoms can include bleeding gums, gum swelling, bad breath, gum tenderness, shrinking gums and loose teeth. 

The best ways to prevent gum disease are to ensure you brush your teeth twice a day and book routine appointments to see your dental hygienist.

Dental Care at Staina House 

At Staina House, we proudly provide comprehensive dental care to our patients. Our team includes in-house dentists and a dental hygienist, who our fantastic dental nurses and staff members support.

Our glowing reviews speak for themselves: 

‘I have been a patient at Staina House dental practice for a few years now and I must say it’s the best practice I’ve been to. From the minute you walk through the door you receive a friendly welcome and are put at ease. Linda is excellent with her advice on oral hygiene and I always leave with a sparkling smile after a visit with her! No matter what treatment I require,  David always explains it in detail and reassures me…He is so patient and extremely skilled. Well worth a visit! Thank you to all at Staina House.’ – Review from Stephanie Sturgess, Staina House Patient. 

I have been a patient at the practice for four years since moving to Garstang and can’t praise the service I have received there highly enough. I see the hygienist every 6 months and am always impressed with how white my teeth are.” – Review from Ruth Kirkham, Staina House Patient.

To book your next appointment with our dental hygienist or one of our dentists, call us on 01995 605707.

T: 01995 605707