Dental Technician

The Job and What's Involved

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:

  • Prosthodontic technicians design and make dentures and implants to replace missing teeth.
  • Conservation technicians specialise in crown and bridge work, casting metals and ceramic materials (like porcelain) to cover up external damage to a tooth/teeth, by creating a frame that can be cemented in place.
  • Orthodontic technicians produce braces using wire which, when tightened, will adjust the positioning of teeth in the mouth and correct bite positions.

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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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.

Education and Training

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:

  • Studying full time for a BTEC National Diploma, foundation degree or BSc (Hons) degree in dental technology and applying for a technician post after completion.
  • Combining work as a commercial laboratory or dental practice trainee with studying part time for an approved qualification.
  • Applying to a hospital or health authority-run scheme, combining work with study.

Entry requirements to GDC-recognised courses are generally:

  • BTEC National Diploma in dental technology - at least four GCSE's (A*-C), including English, maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications.
  • Foundation degree in dental technology, De Montfort University - four GCSE's (A*-C), plus one A level, and usually in employment as a trainee dental technician.
  • Degree in dental technology from Manchester Metropolitan University or the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff - at least two A levels, including a science or technology subject, plus five GCSE's (A*-C) including maths and English, or a foundation degree in dental technology.

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.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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
- Restorations
- 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.

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As an ambulance technician you would respond to accident and emergency calls, as well as a range of planned and unplanned non-emergency cases. You would usually work in a team, providing support to a paramedic during the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of patients at the scene of an incident and during hospital transfers.

You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dental technician should have:

  • Good hand and eye coordination.
  • Excellent manual dexterity to produce very precise and accurate work.
  • Some artistic skills and a good eye for colour, to make dentures, crowns and other appliances look as natural as possible.
  • The ability to concentrate on tasks for long periods of time.
  • Accuracy and good attention to detail.
  • Some scientific skills.
  • The ability to understand and interpret complex technical instructions.
  • Good eyesight and normal colour vision.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

The British Institute of Dental and Surgical Technologists,
4 Thompson Green, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD17 7PR
Tel: 0845 644 3726
Website: www.bidst.org

Dental Laboratories Association (DLA),
44-46 Wollaton Road, Beeston,
Nottingham NG9 2NR
Tel: 0115 925 4888
Website: www.dla.org.uk

The Dental Technologists Association (DTA),
Waterwells Drive, Waterwells Business Park, Gloucester GL2 2AT
Tel: 0870 243 0753
Website: www.dta-uk.org

General Dental Council,
37 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8DQ
Tel: 020 7887 3800
Website: www.gdc-uk.org

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk, www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk and for
graduates and undergraduates www.whatcanidowithmydegree.nhs.uk

The Orthodontic Technicians Association,
British Orthodontic Society, 12 Bridewell Place, London EC4V 6AP
Tel: 020 7353 8680
Website: www.orthota.co.uk

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

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