Dental Technicians are an essential member of the dental team. Over the years there has been a significant decrease in the number of registered dental technicians and they’re fast becoming a dying breed. That’s to say, the demand for Dental Technicians has never been higher!
In this article, Matt Everatt discusses what’s involved in working as a Dental Technician and how to get involved.
Director at S4S Dental Laboratory,
Editor at The Dental Technician Magazine Limited
and Visiting Lecturer in Orthodontic Technology
I originally trained as a Dental Technician at Sheffield College before undertaking my advanced qualifications in Orthodontics and Maxillofacial Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
I began my career as an Orthodontic Technician and a Maxillofacial Prosthetist at Rotherham General Hospital before moving onto more senior roles in some of the UKs largest NHS Trusts and Teaching Establishments including Guys and St Thomas’ and Addenbrookes Cambridge Teaching Hospitals. I have also undertaken training as an educator and have been involved in the teaching Dental Technicians at Undergraduate levels at Manchester Metropolitan University and am currently a visiting lecturer in Orthodontics at The Sheffield College. I was an instructor to Undergraduate Dental students and Orthodontic postgraduate students during my time at those teaching hospitals.
I am more recently known for my business ownership; being a founding member of S4S Dental Laboratory. I was also one of the founders of one of the UKs largest independent clear aligner companies; Smilelign. I have held Director positions in several Dental based companies including the more recent formation of S4S Team, a dental recruitment agency focusing on the provision of locum dental nurses hygienists, therapists and dentists.
A Dental Technician is an integral part of the Dental Team. They work to the prescription of a Dentist or Medic providing custom made dental appliances such as dentures, crowns bridges, and orthodontic appliances. A Dental Technician would have technical problem solving skills as well as an eye for detail and usually very creative by nature.
Dental Technicians work closely with dental practices, working from impressions of a patients mouth and following a clinical prescription from a dentist. Impressions can be made in a traditional manner using alginate or silicone and gypsum/plaster is cast into the moulds by the dental technician. The more recent introduction of digital intra oral scanning means more dental technicians and Dental Laboratories use 3D printers to produce working models on which they will design and construct the custom made dental appliances.
Access to education to achieve a GDC registerable qualification is relatively straight forward and competition to get onto a course is less so than other dental professionals such as dentistry or dental hygiene and therapy.
Dental Technicians are highly skilled professionals who can directly and significantly influence the appearance and aesthetics of patients. Although all cases are completed alongside dentists and the Dental clinic, Dental Technicians tend to work autonomously in their own Laboratories.
For the entrepreneurial types, setting up your own dental laboratory can be relatively straight forward and rewarding.
The role of being a dental technician inevitably means you become a problem solver. Every case is different, bringing challenges and opportunities to improve patients, health, well-being and improve aesthetics and function. There are opportunities to undertake clinical qualifications to become a Maxillofacial Technician or a Clinical Dental Technician (CDT).
Everyday will be different, bringing new challenges and opportunities. We are registered dental professionals and we have access to a whole world of education and courses to help us gain more skills and experience, for those who enjoy learning, you will never get bored.
There is currently a huge shortage of Dental Technicians, it is particularly difficult to find experienced and highly skilled technicians. This supply and demand issue is meaning dental technicians are having to increase prices of their products and services in order to pay better salaries to those technicians with experience and skills.
Unless you undertake specialist Clinical qualifications and become a CDT or a Maxillofacial
Prosthetist Technologist, you will not be allowed to work directly with patients.
We work in a heavily regulated profession and as a Dental professional we too have to adhere to codes of practice, ensure we undertake CPD and maintain our professional registrations. In addition, all dental Laboratories have to comply with legislation such as registering as a medical device manufacturer with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA). It is illegal to make and supply custom made dental appliances to patients and can result in fines or a criminal conviction if you do not register and or comply with the rules for providing such devices.
It is a competitive market, barriers to entry are relatively low and the demand for low cost crowns, dentures and dental appliances by NHS Dental practices over the years has led to Laboratories having to compete in providing low quality, small margin products. This has inevitably had an impact on many dental technicians, seeing many being paid poorly and are facing a serious decline in the numbers of Dental Technicians in the profession with many leaving and not seeing enough newly qualified Dental Technicians coming through.
My week is probably very different to many Dental Technicians. As a director of S4S Dental Laboratory I have a varied roll that is more involved in the back end running and business development aspects. I take account of the daily stats such as number and types of cases in, daily outputs and focus heavily on customer service. I will be involved in a various business decided and employment matters on a weekly basis.
A week in the life of a Dental Technician may look a little different to mine. When I was more hands on a week would typically start off crazy. Mondays would typically be busy, making sure all of the impressions for cases taken by dentists on Friday and the weekend were all dealt with. The remainder of the week would be massively varied depending what area of speciality you were working in. My main roles were always in Orthodontics, by the nature of the role, everyday was busy making retainers or bending wires and playing around with acrylic.
When I worked in hospitals, the days were a little more governed by the clinics. My Maxillofacial roles included running my own clinics, seeing my own patients and completing my own lab work to my own deadlines.
There are currently less than a dozen colleges and universities in the UK offering Dental Technology courses leading to a registerable qualification.
Over the years there has been a significant decrease in the number of registered dental technicians, this is leading to a supply shortage and we have recently seen many dental technicians and labs having to drop cheaper services and products in order to pay better salaries and attract more technicians to their labs. The hope would be that we see the pay gap narrow between dental technicians and other dental professionals.
My advice would be to go and visit a few Dental Labs and visit some colleges and universities who offer Dental Technology qualifications. There are a range of courses and there are now options to unindertake a blended learning approach whereby you are employed whilst undertaking your studies. The benefit tontaking a blended learning approach being most students can qualify without having to take on large debts, although there is a huge level of commitment as you will be expected to work as well as completing all of your academic studies and workload.
An example of the current requirements and training available for Dental Technicians;
To work as a dental technician/dental technologist, you must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). GDC-recognised courses lead to qualifications such as:
There are less than a handful of training institutions offering some form of advanced qualifications such as a Masters degree or PhD. There are courses available to Dental Technicians that would give vital and quality training to improve their skills and to enhance career progression.
If dental technicians wish to have more direct patient contact there is the option to undertake further studies and qualify as a Clinical Dental Technician (CDT). There are universities such as UCLAN offering a 2 year programme leading towards a registerable qualification as a CDT, enabling direct patient contact providing patients with Dental Prosthetics.
There is a postgraduate programme in Maxillofacial Technology that also would lead to a qualification as a Maxillofacial Prosthetist and Technologist (MPT). Again offering a more clinical route, being dually qualified would lead to professional registrations with the GDC and Healthcare Scientists. MPT’s typically have a diverse roles and are typically located in Hospital Laboratories with direct patient contact making a whole variety of appliances and prosthesis.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a dental technician and there is no reason why it cannot be a fulfilling career for anyone. My biggest piece of advice would be to get as much clinical contact as possible. Speak to the dentists that are sending you impressions and prescriptions, ask to see if you can go and see your cases being fitted, you’ll learn so much in such a short space of time. You will pick up some great tips by seeing the clinical side of the work and cases you make. I always suggest the same to dentists too, they should come and see how the appliances are made.
Remember that Dentists and nurses are on your team and you are on theirs. Speak regularly, so many technicians go out of their way to avoid speaking with their colleagues in dental practices, communication is everything.
There has never been a better time to start out and become a dental technician, well I would say that wouldn’t I!? Seriously, we are at such an amazing time in terms of the technology we have at our fingertips. We are a vital part of the Dental Team and we can offer such amazing support, products and services. I believe we will see conditions including working environment, hours of work and salaries will improve over the next few years and we will see some incredible introductions of new technology
If you are thinking about becoming a dental technician you might find these links interesting or useful;