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Dental technology

DENTAL TECHNOLOGY

A dental technologist (or dental technician) is a member of the dental oral healthcare team who, upon prescription from a dental clinician, construct custom-made restorative and dental appliances such as dentures, crowns, bridges and dental braces for individual patients. 

UNSUNG HEROES

Their work requires a high level of manual dexterity, attention to detail and an application of applied aesthetic values.

EACH PATIENT IS UNIQUE

No two pieces are the same, therefore much of the work is carefully done by hand to fine-tune each piece to the exact specification to make sure the device is comfortable and effective for the patient prior to the final fitting with the dentist.

FIELD OF PRACTICE

FOUR MAJOR DISCIPLINES

There are four major disciplines within dental technology:

  • Fixed prosthesis including crowns, bridges and implants;
  • Removable prosthesis, including dentures and removable partial dentures;
  • Orthodontics, including orthodontic appliances and mouthguards;
  • Maxillofacial prosthesis, including ocular prosthesis and craniofacial prosthesis (generally carried out in the Hospital provision)

THE WORK

Dental technicians use different tools, equipment and materials to make, modify or repair:

  • Various types of dentures
  • Crowns and implants to replace individual teeth
  • Bridges to anchor a false tooth between natural ones
  • Various other types of appliance, such as braces to straighten teeth
  • Maxillofacial appliances and prostheses, for patients who have lost part of their face or jaw through
  • Disease or accident, or for children born with defects, such as a cleft palate. This is specialised
  • Hospital work with limited entry opportunities.

TOOLS EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS

Dental technicians work with plastic, porcelain, metals (including gold and stainless steel), wax and plaster. They use hand and power tools and have skills that include modelling, sculpting in fine detail, polishing, plastic-forming, casting, wire-bending and ceramic work. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing are also increasingly used in commercial dental laboratories. As each of us is different, each appliance is custom-made, to ensure a good fit.

SKILLS

Dental technicians need:

  • to be able to do fine, manual work - most jobs are on a very small scale and must be accurately finished
  • to be good at concentrating
  • good eyesight - normal colour vision is important for some aspects of the work - for example, making crowns and bridges, as subtle colour matching (called shading) is part of the job
  • some design flair, and an ability to sculpt and copy shapes
  • the ability to apply technology and health sciences to complex and varied tasks.

PROSPECTS

FURTHER QUALIFICATIONS

With further qualification and experience, dental technicians can progress to a clinical dental technician, orthodontic therapist, healthcare scientists specialising in reconstructive science or management roles such as senior or chief technician posts, quality control, teaching or sales. In addition, with experience and business expertise, it may be possible to set up your own dental laboratory.

  • Clinical dental technicians are dental technicians who have undertaken specific clinical training to enable them to design, create, construct, modify and fit removable dental appliances for patients. In this role, you would be able to provide dentures direct to patients with no natural teeth, or work with and to the prescription of a dentist to provide partial dentures for patients with some teeth. An important part of the role is to check on the patient's general dental welfare.
  • Orthodontic therapists assist dentists in orthodontic treatment for example fitting braces, orthodontic headgear, facebows, tooth separators and bonded retainers and taking impressions.
  • Healthcare scientists specialising in reconstructive science with training through the NHS Scientist Training Programme.

DENTAL TECHNOLOGY TRAINING

By law, to practise as a dental technician you must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). There are currently a number of different routes to gaining a GDC-approved qualification and this is demonstrated in diagram 1. Many entrants start as trainees in a commercial dental laboratory, a dental practice or in a dental hospital, and combine on-the-job training with part-time study towards an approved qualification that are currently set at either level 3, 5 or 6. The DTA vision, detailed on diagram 2, is that the baseline qualification to register as a dental technician is an approved foundation degree at level 5.

Be aware that course entry requirements vary, so check carefully with individual institutions and individual employers set their own entry requirements for Apprenticeships, but for Higher Apprenticeships you normally need A level or equivalent qualifications.

ROUTES TO BECOMING A DENTAL TECHNOLOGIST

Diagram 1  - download: Routes to becoming a dental technologist

  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in dental technology: for entry, colleges usually ask for five GCSEs at grades 9-5/4 or A*-C (or equivalent) often including English, maths and sometimes science. Full-time courses are available; it's also possible to take the course through part-time study, aimed at those in relevant employment.
  • Approved foundation degrees: a few institutions offer foundation degrees in dental technology through full-time study or part-time study for those in relevant employment. For entry, a relevant level 3 qualification is usually required, such as a BTEC Level 3 National or at least one A level (a science subject may be preferred), plus supporting GCSEs. After gaining a foundation degree, it's possible to undertake further study to gain a full degree.
  • Approved degrees: full-time degree courses in dental technology are offered at a few universities. You usually need three A levels including a science subject. Equivalent qualifications, such as a relevant BTEC Level 3 National qualification, may be acceptable. You also need supporting GCSEs.

It's possible to train in dental technology through an Apprenticeship. These offer structured training in the workplace.

  • In England, it's possible to train as a dental technician through a Higher Apprenticeship (at level 5). In Wales, training can be through a Higher Apprenticeship in health (dental technology). These Apprenticeships lead to GDC-approved foundation degrees.
  • In England, the level 3 Apprenticeship for dental laboratory assistants leads to a Level 3 Diploma in dental technology techniques. Dental laboratory assistants work under the supervision of GDC registered dental technicians. Progression is possible to a Higher Apprenticeship.

The DTA Vision for Routes to Registering as a Dental Technologist

Diagram 2 - Download: DTA Vision for routes to registering as a dental technologist   

With further qualification and experience, dental technicians can progress to a clinical dental technician and be able to provide services direct to patients. An important part of the role is to check on the patient's general dental welfare. The DTA believe that the responsibility and duty of care associated with this role is better suited to a level 6 qualification instead of level 5 and this is detailed on diagram 2.

INSTITUTIONS

The GDC list approved dental technologiy programmes and qualifications on their website  and you can find out more about Apprenticeships through the National Apprenticeship Service  or Careers Wales.

PROSPECTS AND PAY

Qualified dental technicians working within the NHS earn from around £22,000 when first qualified, but this can rise to almost £42,000 for those with experience and advanced skills. Salaries for staff working outside the NHS vary depending on the employer. The income of self-employed dental technicians will depend on the success of their business.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Commercial dental laboratories

These laboratories are where most dental technicians work, either as employees or, with experience, running their own businesses. The laboratories, which range from single-handed organisations through to large companies, receive prescriptions from dentists and carry out the work required. They also repair or modify appliances. A large laboratory deals with a wide variety of work and may offer the opportunity to specialise.

Hospitals

Hospital dental departments may employ specialist technicians to make maxillofacial appliances and other dental appliances. In the NHS there is a clear career structure relating to qualifications, responsibility and competence.

General practice

A few large private dental practices employ their own dental technician to carry out work on the premises, though most practices use commercial laboratories. In a practice, the dental technician would deal with quite a wide range of work, often specialising to meet the needs of the particular practice.

EMPLOYER

INCENTIVES INFORMATION 

Have you considered offering an apprenticeship, traineeship or kickstart placement?  The Education and Skills Funding Agency has shared this One Pager with our membership which identifies choices for people over 16 years of age. It describes each programme and includes employer costs, incentives, training, duration, eligibility, progression route, links to additional information.

EMPLOYER

APPRENTICESHIPS INFORMATION 

Hiring an apprentice is a productive and effective way for any organisation to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. The majority of the time apprentices stay on in their place of work after completing an apprenticeship enabling your business to grow. You can now employ apprentices at all different levels, from school leavers to people that want to further their careers or change career direction completely. An apprentice can be aged 16 or above.

You can get help from the government to pay for apprenticeship training and assessment. Read more about the benefits to your organisation and how much it is going to cost on the Government website. 

DTA SUPPORTING

STUDENTS AND DENTAL TECHNOLOGISTS

The DTA provide members with a one stop shop including a range of benefits   and packages  to suit and support students throughout their education; newly qualified individuals taking their next steps starting their career; and experienced professionals, making it easy for you to stay compliant no matter where you are in your journey. Student membership is just £10 per year and open to UK based students currently studying for a dental technology qualification. Watch the DTA professionalism video  to understand more about what is expected of a registered dental technologist.