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Dental technicians: The missing link
If you ask a dental patient to which member of the dental team we should give our thanks, many of them would say to dentists and dental nurses. What do you think is the correct answer? I assume we all agree that dentists cannot provide an appropriate healthcare service without their team. Members of the dental team who are registered with the General Dental Council (GDC) are clinical dental technicians, dental hygienists, dental nurses, dental technicians, dental therapists, dentists and orthodontic therapists. Unfortunately, it seems to me that some members of this team have not been treated equally during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, I want to talk about dental technicians as an integral part of the dental team.
I am a prosthodontist, and a large part of the healthcare services that I provide depend on dental technicians. We are in constant contact, as they help me during patient treatment and sometimes provide training for new learners while observing various issues that need to be addressed, such as delays in receiving work or a slight decrease in the quality of work.
Chad Cluff, tutor dental technologist at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London in the UK, told me that many dental laboratory spaces are relatively inadequate for adopting required social distancing measures. Thus, not everyone can be present at work at the same time, and the absence of some employees can cause a delay in the delivery of the service and affect work performance. Cluff noted that the situation is currently beyond remedy.
Adel Houmani, lead technical skills manager at the university, said that the delays in work could have been caused by other reasons. He noted that all dental impressions have to be properly disinfected and that the process requires additional time. He also mentioned that it is unknown whether the virus can survive in dental impressions, and therefore dental technicians should do their best to avoid any contamination.
Houmani also added that some dental laboratories are a great deal quieter than usual. According to him, this quietness could be explained by patients not visiting the dentist regularly since the onset of the pandemic. There has been a decrease in workload, and this is directly affecting dental laboratory finances and thus putting the owners and partners under pressure. So how can we help dental technicians?
According to Houmani, dental laboratory fees are always a topic of discussion. However, since many dentists are looking to save money, increasing the fees would result in losing orders. It seems that this issue is gradually worsening, and a few organisations, such as the Dental Technologists Association in the UK, have warned that patients will soon be experiencing long delays in receiving their custom-made dental appliances.1
It has upset me to learn that, whereas dentists are being supported via the National Health Service, the country is likely to lose many qualified dental technicians for the lack of government support.2 Some sources suggest that over 1,000 dental technicians are currently out of work and that many of them are unable to maintain their registration with the GDC.3
According to dental technicians, dental technology has for too long been considered external to the dental team.4 However, I want to emphasise that we are a team, and we have continued to provide healthcare services to everyone who has needed our help during the pandemic. We need to realise that, during this pandemic, dental technicians have faced great difficulty in accessing any form of support, not just that from the government. Therefore, they do not only need financial help from health authorities; they also need support from the members of the dental team.
We, as members of the dental team, should appreciate what dental technicians are doing for us and our patients, and this appreciation should be passed on to other members of our society. To achieve that, I am starting with myself. As stated recently, dental technicians have to maintain their registration with the GDC and keep their continuing professional development (CPD) up to date to remain employable.5 As president of UKDentalCourses, an active educational organisation in the UK, I am happy to tailor non-profitable CPD courses to their needs. Therefore, I ask our respected dental technicians to send their requests to enquiry@ukdentalcourses, and we will do our best to address your needs.
In addition, UKDentalCourses would like to invite every member of the dental team to attend The Restored Link online event. The event is aimed at showing dental technicians our appreciation and respect and listening to their enquiries. Please join us and express your needs and concerns.
Editorial note: A list of references is available from the author upon request.