Dental technicians (also known as dental technologists) make, repair and adjust dental devices, which aim to improve patients' appearance, speech and their ability to chew.
These include dentures, crowns, bridges, dental braces, implants or orthodontic appliances.
Dental technicians follow prescriptions given by dentists or other health professionals, often using a dental impression of the patients' mouth and teeth for reference. They will design and construct each device to meet patients' specific needs using a wide range of instruments and materials, including gold, porcelain and plastic. Different techniques, including casting, carving, molding and wire construction are used to build up and shape individual devices.
Dental technicians tend to specialise in one of three disciplines:
Some technicians may be proficient and work in all three. Technicians may also make sports mouth guards, anti-snoring devices and speech therapy appliances. They do not usually have direct contact with patients.
Maxillofacial technicians provide very specialist support. Entering this profession requires several years of training after qualifying and working as a dental technician. Working mainly in hospitals, they work with oral, ophthalmic, burns and cancer units to reconstruct the faces of patients damaged by accident or disease. This may include contact with patients and involve designing and making prostheses that include eyes, nose, ears and other body parts. It can also include advice on the construction of specialist splints for patients in theatre following incidents like a car accident.
Dental technicians normally work between 37 and 40 hours a week. They typically work weekdays, but may have to provide emergency cover on weekends, evenings and bank holidays if working for a hospital department. They may work alone or in a small team. Part-time work is possible.
Dental technicians work in a laboratory. This may be within a hospital setting, or for a commercial laboratory which is contracted to provide dental services to numerous dental practices and hospitals. Some are attached to, or based at dental practices or some may cover several dental practices over a wide geographical area.
Protective clothing and other safety equipment, like eye shields may be worn.
A newly-qualified dental technician can earn between £20,225 and £26,123 a year.
It is estimated that there are around 10,000 dental technicians working in the UK, 8,000 in the commercial sector and 2,000 employed within the hospital service and salaried primary care dental service. Just over 7,000 dental technicians are now registered with the General Dental Council, a mandatory working requirement from July 2008.
Most technicians work for commercial dental laboratories that produce work for a number of different general dental practitioners. Commercial laboratories range in size from sole trader businesses to large companies with several branches.
Other technicians work for hospital dental services, the Royal Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC), the RAF and the Royal Navy. Some technicians are self-employed.
There are vacancies for skilled dental technicians. Jobs and training opportunities are advertised in the local and national press, Jobcentre Plus offices and industry journals like The Dental Technician. Associated bodies listed in further information, as well as www.jobs.nhs.uk often list vacancies online.
Registration with the General Dental Council (GDC) is required to work as a dental technician. This means applicants will need to successfully complete a recognised qualification.
There are several ways of entering the profession, which include part- and full-time study options for a dental technology qualification leading to GDC registration. These include:
Entry requirements to GDC-recognised courses are generally:
Check with individual course providers for exact entry details, as alternative qualifications may be accepted.
The SQA Higher National Certificate in dental technology at Edinburgh's Telford College is subject to approval by the GDC.
It is possible to join the RAF and Royal Army Dental Corps as a qualified and registered civilian dental technician.
Some dental technicians study full time for a dental technology qualification before starting work. These full-time courses usually include practical work placements within a commercial dental laboratory or hospital setting to apply the skills learned.
Students attending courses will learn about:
- Dental anatomy
- Occupational health and safety
- Dental materials
- Basic laboratory techniques
- Complete denture prosthetics
- Partial dental prosthetics and conservation
- Orthodontic appliances and making dental bridges
The GDC, as a condition of registration, requires technicians to keep their skills and knowledge up to date through continuing professional development.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A dental technician should have:
With further qualifications progression to senior or chief technician posts is possible. Promotion prospects can be greater in larger laboratories. It may be necessary to move between employers to progress. In larger commercial laboratories there may also be opportunities in quality control, management or sales.
Self-employment is possible for experienced dental technicians. There may also be opportunities to train and specialise as a clinical dental technician, dealing directly with patients independently from the dental team. This requires undertaking additional sciences, clinical skills, and interpersonal skills training. Working as an orthodontic therapist may be another option.
There may be opportunities to work abroad.
The British Institute of Dental and Surgical Technologists,
4 Thompson Green, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD17 7PR
Tel: 0845 644 3726
Dental Laboratories Association (DLA),
44-46 Wollaton Road, Beeston,
Nottingham NG9 2NR
Tel: 0115 925 4888
The Dental Technologists Association (DTA),
Waterwells Drive, Waterwells Business Park, Gloucester GL2 2AT
Tel: 0870 243 0753
General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 020 7887 3800
The Orthodontic Technicians Association,
British Orthodontic Society, 12 Bridewell Place, London EC4V 6AP
Tel: 020 7353 8680
Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.