Dentists and Dental Technicians

What’s the Difference?

Suppose you take your car into the repair shop. Your mechanic says your alternator is bad and needs replacement. They set an appointment with you for next week so they can order the alternator and have it available in time for the procedure. Do you find yourself disappointed because they don’t make the part themselves? Do you suddenly have concerns because they “order out” for the needed part? Are you upset that they aren’t melting the steel and aluminum, casting it there right next to the bay where your car sits? Of course not! Your shop might not make the car parts, but they know who does. They receive the parts from individuals who are trained and skilled in making them. And if your mechanic trusts those manufacturers, you can too.

The same is true with your dentist. Although they might not make the bridges, dental crowns, or other appliances personally, they know the people who do that work. They trust the skill and expertise of those individuals. The people who make these oral prosthetics are called dental technicians.

Dental Technicians Work “Backstage”

After your dentist takes the images and measurements of your teeth — or perhaps a mold of your upper and lower jaws — they are sent to a dental technician. The technician uses that information to design and create the requested dental appliances. The technician collaborates with your dentist to verify what materials to use, any updates to the patient’s condition or preferences, and any unique circumstances that might affect production. Using the equipment, materials, tools and skills available, the dental technician molds, chisels, adjusts or polishes away at a product until it takes the exact form needed to complete your smile.

Dental Technicians Wear Many Hats

The responsibilities of a dental technician require them to have many different skills involving science, technology, mathematics, and manual dexterity. They need a strong understanding of oral anatomy, prosthetic engineering, and a thorough knowledge of the essential materials. Many machines and components used today require extensive understanding of computer-aided designs and procedures. And since many oral prosthetics require cooling periods or time to set during their manufacture, dental technicians also add multitasking to their repertoire, proceeding with one task while they wait for another to finish.

Of utmost importance is to make the replacement look and feel natural for each patient. After all, the Placerville Dental Group knows that every mouth is different, and so do the technicians we work with. That requires a level of creativity to apply the organic look, color and texture that the patients need. So, it’s not just science and technology — a dental technician also needs to be artistic, often adding finishing touches by hand, not machine. Truly, hats off to your dental technician!

Dental Technician Education

There are many programs certifying dental technicians, and some offer associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. The American Dental Association (ADA) lists accredited programs on their website. Upon completing training, however, getting a job in the field is not necessarily easy. Many students opt to take a certification exam offered by the National Board for Dental Laboratory Technology. Although it is not mandatory, it is highly respected and certification affects a student’s prospects during their job search and even their ultimate salary.

Another line of education is the classic trade system option. Some dental technicians start by assisting an experienced technician, getting trained on more and more procedures as they work their way up, like an apprentice. Of course, adding official education and training, as well as taking the certification exam, greatly increases any student’s options.

Although they aren’t dentists, dental technicians heavily support dentistry with their masterful works of art that preserve or improve patients’ smiles. The next time you’re in our Placerville office for your semi-annual checkup, feel free to ask about the dental technicians we work with. We’d be happy to show you some of their finished work to see if you can tell the difference!



Aug 1, 2019 | Dental Profession


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