A dental technician, also known as a dental technologist, is responsible for designing, constructing and repairing a variety of dental devices

As a dental technician you'll be responsible for helping to improve teeth and for replacing lost teeth. You'll improve teeth for aesthetic reasons, and work to the prescription of a dentist to make bridges, crowns, dentures, braces and other orthodontic devices.

You're likely to specialise in one of the following areas:

  • conservation - crown and bridge work that can be cemented into place, using materials such as porcelain, gold and metal alloys
  • orthodontics - devices such as braces to straighten teeth, using metal or plastic
  • prosthodontics - dentures and implants made from chrome, acrylic or plastic
  • maxillofacial - reconstruction of faces damaged by disease or an accident. You could work in hospital oral surgeries, burns units and cancer units.

Responsibilities

As a dental technician, you'll need to:

  • undertake all aspects of prosthetic work including making bites and special trays, casting, mouth guards and retainers
  • construct partial or full dentures (metal and non-metal) to replace the partial or total loss of teeth
  • create accurate models from doctors' impressions
  • fabricate porcelain veneers for crowns, prostheses, implant restorations and crowns using ceramo-metal techniques
  • construct models of the mouth and teeth from impressions of the patient's mouth taken by the dentist
  • make diagnostic wax-ups, Smile Design cases, dental composite work and pressable/e.max restorations
  • restore natural teeth by fabricating crowns and bridges and applying them to complex implant units and implant-borne restorations
  • correct dental irregularities by manufacturing fixed or removable appliances, such as dentures, casings to go over teeth and retainers
  • replace missing facial and body tissues due to injury, disease or developmental abnormality by fabricating maxillofacial prostheses
  • use traditional methods and CAD/CAM for designing dental devices
  • maintain dental laboratory records and prepare reports on laboratory activities
  • update your dental laboratory technician job knowledge and skills by participating in educational opportunities, reading professional publications, maintaining personal networks and participating in professional organisations.

Salary

  • As a trainee dental technician, starting out in your career with no qualifications, you can expect to earn £16,000.
  • The average salary for a qualified dental technician in the UK with five years' experience is £22,000.
  • This can rise to as much as £43,000 with several years of experience and a specialism.

Salaries vary and are based on your qualifications, specialisms, experience and whether you work for the NHS or a private company.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although this can vary depending on where you work. In some instances you may need to do some weekend work.

Short-term contracts and part-time work may be an option with some employers.

What to expect

  • You're most likely to be based in a dental laboratory, or in a laboratory in a general dentist practice or a hospital.
  • If you work for a hospital, you'll usually be attached to the maxillofacial department, which works on reconstructing damaged faces due to accidents, burns or diseases. You may also be involved in making other prosthesis such as eyes, ears and noses.
  • Working in a laboratory involves time spent working alone and as part of a team. You won't generally have contact with patients themselves, unless you're working in a hospital, as you'll work to the prescription of a dentist. In a hospital, you'll have direct contact with dental and oral surgeons.
  • Most of your work will be done by hand to fine-tune each dental piece to exact specifications. Wearing protective clothing is essential when working with specialised equipment in the laboratory.
  • Job security and conditions vary but are generally good, especially if working for the NHS.

Qualifications

To work as a dental technician you must be registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) before you can start work. To get onto the register, you have to complete a GDC-approved qualification in dental technology. Courses can be at the following levels:

  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Dental Technology - you'll typically need five GCSEs (grade C/4 or above) in English language, maths and a science subject. The course can be completed on a full-time basis or part time while working as a trainee dental technician.
  • foundation degree in dental technology - you'll usually need to be employed in a trainee dental technician role or as an apprentice to get a place on a foundation degree.
  • BSc (Hons) in dental technology - these are usually full-time courses delivered by a university dental school. You'll usually need three A-levels, including one in a science, for entry.

Check with course providers for exact entry details as they may accept alternative qualifications. For a list of course providers, see GDC - Dental technology programmes and qualifications.

For advanced or specialist dental technology work, you'll usually need to take further qualifications at degree or postgraduate degree level.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • manual dexterity
  • a strong understanding of morphology
  • attention to detail
  • design skills and knowledge
  • the ability to analyse quality or performance
  • the ability to work well with others
  • thinking and reasoning skills
  • written and verbal communication skills
  • the ability to work well under pressure of time constraints
  • familiarity with all aspects of prosthetics and the manufacturing of thermoforming appliances
  • experience in crown and bridge metalwork
  • CAM/CAD knowledge of implants systems.

Work experience

Dental technology is a science-based role that requires sound analytical and practical skills. Work experience in a laboratory, dental practice or hospital can show that you have developed these.

Getting experience in the field will help you gain a place on a course or to get a trainee position. Work experience is particularly valuable if you choose the degree route to qualification, which involves full-time study. You'll be competing for jobs with people who have chosen an on-the-job route, so any experience you get will enhance your application.

Working as a trainee dental technician for a dental practice and studying part time will allow you to combine a qualification and on-the-job experience. This route could take up to five years, depending on which qualification you do.

Employers

Most dental technicians work for commercial dental laboratories, which can vary in size and stature. You may also work for a hospital, a general dental practice or the armed forces. Sometimes dental technicians are involved in research or teach undergraduate dental students with one of the GDC-approved course providers.

Although most dental technicians are based on site, there are some opportunities to work for laboratories that offer a postal service, working with dentists from a broader geographical area.

Whether you're employed privately, via the NHS or through another organisation such as the armed forces, you'll be required to prove that you're registered with the GDC in order to work in the UK.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies also handle vacancies. These include:

Vacancies are also advertised on general recruitment websites and employers' own websites. Social media websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, are also a great way to network, find vacancies and get in contact with potential employers.

Professional development

You must undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career to keep your skills and knowledge up to date and to maintain your registration with the General Dental Council (GDC). You'll need to do a minimum number of hours of CPD and keep a log of your activities.

Relevant activities can include:

  • taking in-house training courses (more typical in larger organisations)
  • attending events, seminars, courses and conferences run by the relevant professional associations
  • active involvement with a professional body
  • writing articles for journals
  • undertaking private study, such as online courses or top up courses relating to certain specialisms, or postgraduate study for more advanced dental technology work.

Search postgraduate courses in dental technology.

There are also opportunities to take courses in areas such as leadership and management.

Membership of professional bodies can provide access to a range of CPD and networking opportunities. Relevant associations include:

It's possible for qualified and experienced dental technicians to progress into reconstructive science by getting a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). During the programme you'll be employed in a fixed-term, salaried training post and will also study towards a Masters degree in clinical science (maxillofacial technology).

Career prospects

The need for dental technicians is expected to grow faster than the average health occupation and, once qualified, there are plenty of avenues you can take for career progression.

There are likely to be more opportunities available with larger laboratories and you may need to change employer in order to further your career. There is also scope to work abroad.

With experience, there are opportunities to become a senior or chief dental technician with responsibility for quality control or management within a larger laboratory.

To progress into advanced or specialist dental technology, you'll usually need further training at undergraduate or postgraduate degree-level. For example, there are opportunities with further training and qualifications to specialise in reconstruction sciences such as maxillofacial technology, conservation, orthodontics and prosthodontics.

You could also move into a teaching role as an instructor dental technician once you've got additional teaching qualifications. You could also move into a related area, such as sales. With significant experience, you could even set up your own laboratory.