Last updated on August 7th, 2023.
Dental technicians and dental assistants are two of the most commonly pursued careers within the dental field. If you are interested in both or either of these options, you’re probably wondering what sets them apart. Although both jobs are important to the success of a dental office and each patient’s dental health, they differ widely in various aspects.
The predominant difference between a dental technician and a dental assistant is that dental technicians create prosthetics in a laboratory setting versus a dental assistant works directly with patients in a dental office.
In this article, we will delve deeper into the differences between a dental technician and a dental assistant regarding their daily duties and what degree of education and/or training (if any) is required to obtain one of these careers.
What Do Dental Technicians Do On A Daily Basis?
If you’re someone who finds dentistry fascinating but doesn’t want a career that works directly with patients every day, you might want to strongly consider being a dental technician.
Dental technicians typically work in a lab setting and fill orders by creating, fitting, and repairing dental prosthetics such as crowns, bridges, and implants as well as individual molds of a patient’s mouth. However, they can also work in hospital settings or in a clinic alongside a dentist or clinical dental technician depending on their experience, skill, and personal preference.
They use special tools and machines to create these prosthetics and must, therefore, be very knowledgeable and comfortable with technology as well as detail-oriented to create precise prosthetics and creative to assist with constructing new designs and prosthetics that meet a patient’s needs and visual preferences.
Dental technicians must also be comfortable working with a wide range of materials and understand how their properties differ. This is because most dental prosthetics are made from various materials, such as plaster, porcelain, metals, and more, for various reasons from longevity to comfort to color matching and more.
Another important note to make is that not all dental technicians working in a dental laboratory are the same. Most specialize in one of the four specific areas; these include:
- prosthodontic technicians: responsible for designing and making dentures
- conservation technicians: specialize in crown and bridge work
- orthodontic technicians: responsible for making braces to correct tooth positions
- maxillofacial technicians’: work primarily in hospital oral surgery, ophthalmic, cancer and burns units rather than a dental laboratory and specialize in reconstructing the faces and dental features of patients damaged by accident or disease
While it isn’t uncommon for dental technicians to be skilled in more than one of the areas listed above, specializing helps ensure they are essentially masters of one in particular and can therefore provide the highest quality products to their patients.
Thinking about becoming a dental technician? Here’s an article on dental technician salary and career.
What Does A Dental Assistant Do On A Daily Basis?
A dental assistant is probably the position most individuals are familiar with, apart from the dentist themselves.
Dental assistants typically works in a dental office, preparing patients and assisting the dentist with procedures. Some common daily tasks include:
- preparing rooms for patients (ex. sanitizing, laying out instruments, etc.)
- communicating dental care information
- asking patients if they have any concerns
- answering patient questions
- using high tech dental lab and diagnostic tools
- scheduling patient appointments and sending follow-up reminders
- maintain patient records
- prepare medical bills
- assisting with insurance/billing issues
Compared to a dental technician, dental assistants work directly with patients, and as such, communication and people skills are extremely important. These individuals must be exceptional problem-solvers who are capable of making quick but logical decisions and handle patiently properly in nearly any situation without sacrificing professionalism.
Of course, not everything a dental assistant does is directly related to the patient. Apart from assisting with procedures, they do a lot of work behind the scenes such as sanitizing and preparing rooms, ensuring schedules are organized so appointments are properly set, use technical medical equipment, such as the x-ray machines, to name a few.
Without these individuals, the full weight of patient care would fall to the office dentist(s) which would significantly reduce office productivity and efficiency.
What Does the Training Look Like to Become a Dental Technician
Those of you intrigued by the dental technician description above are probably wondering what education and training requirements you need to fill before you can realistically pursue a position in this career.
The training to become a dental technician is typically more intensive than that of a dental assistant. These individuals must have obtained a high school diploma or GED and benefit from completing a 2-year Dental Lab Technician program leading to an associate’s degree or certificate.
Certification is an exceptional opportunity to specialize in one of the four areas we discussed previously, which can be useful for aspiring dental technicians who know exactly what type of work they want to do and want an edge over other applicants.
However, it is important to note that if you wish to specialize in these areas or others (ex. ceramics, dentures, crowns, bridges), then you’ll likely have to pass an exam through the National Board for Certification in Dental Technology.
Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Dental Tech?
If you’re ready to take your first steps towards becoming a dental technician or you want to learn more about what this career entails, we recommend looking into “The Five Best Dental Tech Courses Online” as recommended by Mind is the Master.
This article clearly lists five of the most informative online courses dedicated to dental technicians and providing those enrolled with the knowledge and training they need to take the next step in their education or their first step towards an official dental tech job.
Because these courses are online, you can feasibly take them from anywhere, and many allow you to work through the course content at your own pace, rather than following a strict schedule for completion.
There are even some free options for those you who desperately need a budget-friendly option or aren’t entirely sold on the idea of a dental technician yet and want more information before deciding for or against the career.
Of course, there are also some highly accredited courses listed here that will undoubtedly give you a leg-up in your education and training, guaranteeing you will be a successful dental technician in no time.
Hopefully, learning the differences between these two professions can help you better determine which suits your ambitions and interests best. To reiterate, if you’re someone who favors creating things, enjoys a laboratory setting, and prefers to work alone or with coworkers, then a dental technician is the best option. Comparatively, if you’re a people person who finds value in working directly with patients along with organization tasks, such as scheduling, then a dental assistant is for you!