Dental technology is a branch of the dental sciences that includes dental technicians, lab scientists, metallurgists and other compound specialists who work to recreate dental anatomy. Whether the natural oral environment is disrupted by disease, accidents or other alterations, skilled professionals can help restore the function, health and look of their patients' mouths.
Dental Technology: The Professionals Who Restore Smiles
Certified dental technicians (CDTs) use their artistic and scientific talents to construct prostheses after obtaining a prescription and dental impressions from a licensed dental professional. By using materials available in the industry, dental technicians can improve the quality of life for patients by restoring or retaining their natural smiles through the replacement of missing or damaged teeth and gums.
The dental technician collaborates with the dental office to design safe reconstructive devices, such as crowns, bridges, full dentures, partial dentures, ceramics or veneers, orthodontic appliances and implants. The cost of these devices vary greatly because of the time, work and materials that go into each one. For instance, a veneer may cost $2,000 per tooth. For dentures, there is the initial purchase and any repairs must be factored into the price tag as well.
To receive an associate degree in dental technology, most educational programs require two years of study. During this two-year program, students become experts in the creation of dental restorations, appliances for tooth movement, or any one of the various modalities for tooth replacement that can be fitted onto dental implants or natural tooth structures.
Some colleges have certificate programs that do not require the same length of time as an associate-level program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is a division of the American Dental Association that grants trade schools, community colleges, universities and technical schools with program accreditation. Program accreditation occurs when the higher learning institution meets all the standards outlined by the Commission. Currently, there are 17 programs accredited nationally by CODA.
Dental technology is a rapidly changing field. Through new CAD/CAM techniques (which stands for computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) and improved treatment options, patients are keeping their teeth longer in life. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of adults ages 20 to 64 retain all their teeth. Yet, that leaves a large percentage of the population who need the expertise of dental technicians. The National Association of Dental Laboratories is the professional association for those interested in pushing dental technology to its highest level in providing care to patients.