Laboratory & Medical Technical
Dental technicians restore, maintain and improve patients' oral health, appearance, speech and ability to chew by creating, designing or repairing for them fixed and removable prostheses (artificial parts) in accordance with dentists' or doctors' prescriptions.
Fixed prostheses include bridges, crowns and implants, while examples of removable prosthesis include dentures and braces. Dental technicians work with a wide range of materials and use the latest techniques, equipment and computer technology to design and make these specialist devices.
Dental technicians, who are also known as dental technologists, can choose to specialise in orthodontics, prosthetics, dentures and crown and bridges, or work as a generalist, producing a range of dental devices.
Dental technicians spend their day working on dentists' or doctors' prescriptions, which vary, owing to the different needs of patients. A technician's job role can be split into technical and non-technical responsibilities.
Typical technical work activities include:
- working from dentists', or in some instances doctors', prescriptions
- replacing partially or totally lost teeth
- making models of patients' mouth and teeth from impressions
- creating digital 3D images of a patients' teeth
- correcting the position of teeth
- examining models and impressions of teeth
- pouring materials over predesigned moulds
- constructing, modifying and repairing dental devices
- evaluating the functionality of any artificial teeth
- fitting removable and fixed dental devices
- building dental devices such as crowns and veneers
Typical non-technical work activities include:
- advising patients on oral health
- responding to enquiries
- carrying out research into developing laboratory techniques
- reporting faulty equipment
- documenting work by completing forms, reports, logs and records
- drafting business plans (which comes with experience)
Most full-time dental technicians who are employed by an organisation are contracted to work around 40 hours a week from Monday to Friday, but their working hours may surpass this figure due to demand. It's not uncommon for self-employed dental technicians to regularly work more than 40 hours per week.
The environments in which dental technicians work are sterile, well-lit, ventilated, and furnished with the equipment they need to meet the requirements of their role. For example, dental technicians tend to have their own workbench which is equipped with the specialist tools and equipment they require.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for dental technicians
- Attention to detail and accuracy
- Able to concentrate for prolonged periods of time
- Eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity
- Able to adapt to new technology and keep abreast with the latest developments
- Understand and interpret complex technical instructions
- A keen interest in material sciences and technology
- Sector-specific knowledge (both theoretical and practical)
- Ability to perform under pressure and work to tight deadlines
- Creative flair, owing to the design component of the role
- Verbal communication and interpersonal skills
- Ability to work as part of a team as well as independently
- Customer service
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of dental technicians
Commercial dental laboratories, which range from small, family run businesses or boutiques, with up to around ten employees, to large multi-site laboratories, with at least 100 technicians, offering a full suite of services, are the main employers of dental technicians. However, dental technicians are also employed in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals, dental practices and military hospitals (armed forces).
The types of work dental technicians carry out typically vary across employers. For instance, a dental technician who works for an NHS hospital may support dental surgeons by designing and building prostheses for patients with, say, facial injuries. A technician who works in a private dental lab, on the other hand, will typically create prostheses for many dental practices across a geographical area.
Some seasoned dental technicians get involved in research or teaching dental students at university, opting to become lecturers in dental laboratory technology programmes. Others go on to become sales representatives, technical support representatives or instructors for dental manufacturers or suppliers. Many suppliers and manufacturers employ a large number of dental technicians.
Qualifications and training required
To work as a dental technician you must be registered with the General Dental Council (www.gdc-uk.org), which regulates dental professionals in the UK. In order to register, you will have to complete a GDC-accredited course and obtain either of the following qualifications:
- BTEC national diploma or SQA higher national certificate in dental technology
If you opt for this route, you will likely need at least four GCSEs including English language, maths and a science at a minimum of grade C (or equivalent). The diploma can be taken part time while working in the field as a trainee.
- Foundation degree
It's common for people on an accredited foundation degree programme to study part time while working in a trainee dental technician role.
- BSc (hons) degree in dental technology
You will normally need two or three A levels and at least five A–C grade GCSEs, or equivalent qualifications, to embark on a degree in dental technology. Degrees are usually full time at a university or dental school.
- In Scotland the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) is the only institution offering an approved qualification. Entry requirements are 2 Highers including a science subject plus English at National 5. Completing the diploma allows registration with the GDC. All students must be employed in a Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency registered (MHRA) laboratory.
In addition to the qualifications above, you will need colour-normal vision.