Dental Technology is the technical side of dentistry where dental technicians make appliances to improve patients’ appearance, speech or ability to chew. Dental technicians are a crucial part of the dental team who use their understanding of dental material science, and their skills of design and fabrication to recreate people’s teeth. The satisfaction comes from knowing you are the one that made it possible for that person to smile again.
“I love this job. I get to be mentally challenged, solve complex technical
problems and help improve the life and appearance of other people.”
Helen Fowke BDentTech
What is Dental Technology?
Dental technicians work as part of the dental care team within a dental laboratory and so do not have direct contact with the patients.
They design and construct artificial teeth in various forms, removable orthodontic appliances, and maxillofacial appliances such as artificial eyes, ears, and facial prostheses. Working with dentists, technicians use a wide range of materials including gold, porcelain and plastic, to design and construct appliances to meet each patient’s needs. The fact that the product made can affect the health and appearance of a person, demands of the technician a high level of responsibility and accuracy.
Dental technicians work with their hands on detailed and delicate items, and have good hand-eye co-ordination. A dental technician learns to visualise in a 3D perspective and typically has an eye for detail and likes to get things just right.
Students should have a background in Chemistry at Year 13 and Biology at Year 12. Mathematics and Physics would also be an advantage.
Dental Technology is a global profession. Throughout the world there is a high demand for skilled dental technicians. The high skill base that New Zealand dental technicians achieve makes them desirable to overseas employers.
In New Zealand and Australia, dental technicians are employed by commercial dental laboratories that provide the bulk of the work for the private dental industry, the defence forces, hospitals and state health dental services.
The ratio of employer to employee is approximately 1:3 and many dental technicians ultimately set up business for themselves. There are no barriers to becoming selfemployed. The areas within the profession are diverse, with individuals specialising in particular areas of dental technology.
Dental Technology at Otago
The Bachelor of Dental Technology at Otago is the only one in New Zealand and is a three-year degree programme. It is taught within Otago’s School of Dentistry and this creates long-lasting relationships with the other dental health professionals and establishes the dental care perspective from day one.
During your study you will learn about the oral environment, biomaterial and design principles and practical skills in designing and fabricating appliances for the mouth. These appliances include; artificial teeth such as complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, mouth guards, crowns and bridges and removable orthodontic appliances in various materials such as acrylics, alloys, and ceramics.
If you wish to take your knowledge beyond the Bachelor of Dental Technology, there is a range of postgraduate study options. There is an Honours programme for students that achieve high academic grades. There are further opportunities for higher study in the form of a Postgraduate Diploma in Dental Technology, Master of Dental Technology and PhD.
For those who are interested in treating patients there is a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Dental Technology. These graduates are able to offer a removable denture service direct to patients.
The profession of dental technician is registered under the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act – 2004 and those who graduate with the Bachelor of Dental Technology are automatically entitled to register with the New Zealand Dental Technicians Board in order to practise as a Registered Dental Technician. Once registered there are no barriers to registration or working in Australia.
For Helen Fowke, dental technology is the perfect combination of her two great loves – science and art.
“I learnt about dental technology at a school careers expo at home in Tauranga and I immediately knew it was for me. I liked that it was technical, but also artistic, and I liked the idea of working with my hands,” she says.
Dental technicians work behind the scenes making the appliances that dentists use like crowns, bridges, plates, and dentures.
“It helps if you are good with your hands and have an artistic eye. You need to be able to see the different colours and translucency of a tooth, see its shape and be able to recreate that so no one can tell it isn’t the real thing,” Helen says.
The course combines studying physics and biology with hands on construction classes that involve carving wax, making moulds, grinding, polishing and painting.
“It’s hard work, but it’s manageable. You can’t just cruise,” Helen says. “You are constantly dealing with new technology and materials. The lecturers are very helpful. They really know their stuff and have a lot of industry experience.”
As part of the course dental technology students are teamed up with dentistry students and spend time in the School of Dentistry’s clinics.
“Working with the dentistry students and watching them fit your appliances is really helpful as a student, because you see why appliances are made in a particular way and really understand the reasoning behind each design. Also, seeing your own work in a mouth is very rewarding and satisfying.”
Since graduation Helen has been working as a resident dental technician at the School of Dentistry.
Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago, PO Box 647, Dunedin, New Zealand.
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