“I make teeth.”
Ask a dental technician what they do for work, and you will probably get an answer close to that. It’s short and sweet, and to the point, but in reality it’s not quite that simple.
Dental technology is a multifaceted, highly specialized niche career. It takes a blend of artistry, dexterity, and technical knowledge to be successful in the field.
The role of dental technician is to manufacture custom made prosthetic teeth for those needing dental restorations. These restorations include dental crowns and bridges, and sometimes dentures and other removable oral appliances.
Dental techs are required to craft the false teeth out of materials such as gold, ceramic, zirconia, etc, while ensuring they remain lifelike in shape and coloring. Special attention is paid to the surrounding teeth, along with the wishes of the doctor and patient, in order for the tooth or teeth to fit seamlessly in the mouth.
There are a few aspects of dental technology. Some dental techs will do the whole process from start to finish, while others specialize in just one area.
Model technians create a stone model of the patient’s mouth from the impression taken at the dentist’s office. These models are used as a framework and guide for the restoration being made. The technician crafting the tooth will know what size is needed to fill the gap, and ensure that the new tooth fits with the surrounding and upper teeth.
CAD/CAM technicians use specialized dental computer programs to digitally create models, crowns and bridges, and removables such as dentures or night guards. These items are then 3D printed or milled from wax, zirconia or other dental materials. This branch of dental technology requires not only the experience of utilizing these specialized programs, but the knowledge of what is required to make a functional dental restoration.
Ceramists, or Finish Technicians:
Ceramists or finish technians build the tooth from the dental materials, as well as refine the final shape and details in coloring. This skill often takes years to master, and few dental technicians can create false teeth that look real in the mouth.
The details that ceramists / finish techs craft into the restoration to make the teeth look real are added internally by building the structure of the tooth with different colored options of the chosen material, as well as externally by painting them on with glazes. Once the glazing is painted on, they are fired in an oven in order to be permanently bonded into the tooth.
Removable technicians focus on dentures, partials, night guards and other dental appliances that are not permanently fixed into the patients mouth. They utilize different techniques and often different materials than typically used to create crowns and bridges. However the specialized dental CAD/CAM software crosses over between both departments.
There are two ways to become a dental technician, you can either complete a certificate program from a school of dental technology, or learn on the job.
There are only a handful of schools that teach dental technology in the United States, so most dental techs are trained on the job. It is common for technicians who take this route to start off making models or doing other prep work, and then over the years train the technology or how to finish crowns.
There are two types of credentials that dental technicians can attain: a Certified Dental Technician, or C.D.T, or a Master Dental Technician, or M.D.T. However in most places, you are not required to possess credentials if you have a certain amount of experience in the field.
With this career path being so specialized, it is no wonder that younger generations are the vast minority in this field.
Here at Whatcom Dental Lab we are proud to have a multigenerational work environment. We strive to break that stereotype and help raise up the next generation of dental technicians by embracing technology while passing on the traditional trusted techniques.
Have any questions for us about what a Dental Technician does? Ask in the comments! Interested in becoming a Dental Tech? Check out our career opportunities pages for current job listings.