Their work improves lives by changing people’s appearances, and helping them with functional skills like eating.
What is a Dental Technician?
A dental technician is also known as a dental technologist. You are responsible for supplying patients with orthodontic devices like braces, retainers, dentures, crowns and tooth caps following the requests of a qualified dentist. You’ll work with different materials and equipment types from metal to plastic and even gold.
You’ll work with a variety of different patients, and could find roles in several different settings. If you focus on more routine procedures like fitting braces, you’re likely to be based in a dental practice. You might choose to specialise in certain areas, and work in hospitals with patients needing more detailed treatment. This could be working with patients who have a facial disfigurement or who have been in an accident, supplying temporary or permanent devices that improve their quality of life.
Your responsibilities depend on where you work and what you specialise in. Though, broadly speaking, most dental technicians tend to have similar roles and responsibilities.
You could choose to train via a dental technician apprenticeship (higher level).
Some common duties of dental technicians are:
- Building devices for individual patients, such as crowns or more complex structures to replace bones lost in injury.
- Carry out prosthetic work for patients with more complex needs.
- Creating models of proposed work using both traditional materials like porcelain and newer technologies like computer aided design and 3D printing.
- Fitting routine orthodontic devices such as NHS dentures, braces, retainers, crowns and bridges.
- Keep accurate records of patient treatments, sharing these with the wider dental team.
- Liaising with dentists and doctors to create a treatment plan.
- Providing check ups for patients with a fitted device, such as tightening braces or adjusting dentures.
- Providing dental repairs for devices which have broken or need adjustments.
- Providing sculpting jobs, like moulding crowns to perfectly fit the patient’s mouth.
- Using relevant dental equipment to the patient’s needs, working carefully to minimise complications.
A dental technician salary depends on your area of specialism and your time in the role. Your salary will also depend on whether you work in the NHS, in practice, or in a laboratory. If you begin your work as an apprentice dental technician, you will receive the standard UK apprenticeship hourly wage. This is £4.81 per hour for apprentices over 19 and in their first year. Once you have completed your first year, you’ll receive national minimum wage for your age bracket.
If you apply to NHS dental technician jobs, your salary is standardised to the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale. You’re likely to begin at band 5, earning between £27,055 and £32,934. As you build up experience and specialise, you could move up to band 6 with a salary range of £33,706 - £40,588, and even band 7, fetching £41,659 - £46,672.
If you choose to work privately or in a lab, your salary will vary. A typical salary for a laboratory dental technician can range from £25,000 to £60,000 a year depending on your specialty, and the area you live. It’s worth looking into the typical pay for your location to see if this is something you’d be interested in.
You’ll be provided with the knowledge and skills for the job as part of your degree, college course or apprenticeship.
There are a variety of dental lab technician courses. You can study for a degree, which will qualify you for advanced dental technician work, study towards a college course, train on an apprenticeship, or even apply directly to the job. When you’re deciding on which route to take, make sure it is accredited by the General Dental Council (GDC).
A dental technician degree will provide you with a combined course of academic study and work placements. The degree title will usually be Dental Technology, and you’ll find courses at both foundation (two year) and bachelors level (three or four years) level.
You can also take a dental technician course at college level. This needs to be an accredited GDC course to qualify as a dental technician. This is called a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Dental Technology. You’ll need a minimum of 5 GCSEs with grades 9 - 4 (A*-C) including English and Maths, and usually a science subject too.
You could choose to train via a dental technician apprenticeship (higher level). A clinical higher apprenticeship will give you all the skills you’ll need to work closely with patients and make dental appliances. You’ll need 5 GCSEs with grades 9 to 4 (A*-C) and A levels in order to apply.
Graduates who already have clinical dental technician jobs might take on postgraduate study, where you can further specialise. Examples include masters degrees in maxillofacial technology or public health. You could even apply for the NHS Scientist Training Program to train in reconstructive surgery.
Training and development
You’ll be provided with the knowledge and skills for the job as part of your degree, college course or apprenticeship. Registration with the General Dental Council, however, requires a yearly continuing professional development (CPD) to maintain your status. This can be in the form of conference and seminar attendance, shadowing senior staff, audits of your own practice, and publication to academic journals.
Applications to all areas of dentistry are competitive, so work experience in the sector will help you stand out.
You could also join various professional bodies connected to dental technician work. The Dental Technologists Association gives you access to seminars, conferences, and regular updates on cutting edge appliances and processes. If you specialise in particular areas of dental surgery, you could join the Institute of Maxillofacial Prosthetists and Technologists (IMPT) or the Orthodontic Technicians Association (OTA).
The skills you need for a technical role like this are taught to you as part of your training. These include:
- A good bedside manner - you’ll be working closely with patients who may be scared or intimidated by dental devices, so you’ll need to have a calm manner to reassure them.
- A robust knowledge of medicine, dentistry and the technical work involved in your profession.
- Ability to work in a team - your work is part of a bigger picture involving dentists, dental nurses and potentially surgeons, so you’ll need to work well with others.
- An ability to keep up to date with new practices, materials and procedures that can inform your work.
- Design skills - you’ll combine technical drawings with computer aided design to plan and construct devices for patients.
- Excellent communication skills - you’ll need to share information with colleagues and the patients themselves.
- Great manual dexterity - you’ll be working with a variety of materials and equipment for constructing devices.
- Understanding of the processes involved in manufacturing dental devices, especially pre fabricated ones which you then adjust to patient needs.
Applications to all areas of dentistry are competitive, so work experience in the sector will help you stand out. This is especially important for degree level study, where some universities even require a minimum amount of work experience in order to join a course.
Work experience shadowing local dental technicians could take place in several settings. They could be in a laboratory, a hospital, a dental practice or a combination of all three. Reach out to these settings in your local area, and ask to shadow a technician. It would be worth getting a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check if you reach out to patient facing settings. While you shouldn’t be left alone with patients until you’re fully qualified, this will show dedication to the role. You may also find it more straightforward accessing experience observing a lab technician, as this will not include direct time spent with vulnerable people.
A dental technician is also known as a dental technologist.
Dental technician jobs are highly skilled professions, so your career options are good. If you choose private practice, you can take on more responsibility and apply for more senior positions. You might even choose to look for dental technician jobs abroad, as your skills are in demand.
Some dental technicians are inspired by their work in dentistry and choose to undertake further training in the field. If you qualified via a Level 3 course, you might choose to study towards a degree to become a clinical dental technician, giving you more responsibility and more time directly with patients.