Dental prosthetist or dental technician. What is the difference in these dental roles and how does it affect you? Oral health professional roles often overlap when it comes to restoring smiles with custom-made dentures. For more information, read on to clarify the common misperceptions surrounding the roles various oral professionals perform in the process of making, fitting, and maintaining dentures.
Why does it matter to know who’s who in the zoo?
It matters because you want the most focused expertise for your denture issue without paying more than you need to. Since many dental roles overlap, making an informed choice about who is most appropriate for your situation is important. Why wouldn’t you want the best possible and most suitable service at a reasonable cost? But you are not on your own in the ‘quest for the best’.
If your initial consultation with your dentist or dental prosthetist to determine your treatment indicates the need to involve other oral health specialities, be assured your dentist or dental prosthetist will help by explaining your options and providing the necessary referrals.
Dental prosthetists and dental technicians
Dental prosthetists and dental technicians work in close collaboration with each other, functioning as an integral part of a wider network of oral health specialists, like dentists, periodontists, and prosthodontists. Some of whom, confer on therapeutic prosthetics such as immediate dentures, implant retained dentures, splints, and anti-snoring appliances among other devices.
It's important to know that dental prosthetists and dental technicians are subject to the same national regulations as other dental professionals. To practise in this country, oral health professionals must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency [AHPRA], which demands high educational standards and imposes guidelines and codes of practice governing all oral health providers.
To help you better understand we begin with a brief definition of each oral health specialist role:
What is a dental prosthetist or denturist?
A dental prosthetist, known as a denturist in the USA, is a qualified oral health professional who, after careful analysis of your oral situation, designs and implements a treatment plan for your journey to new or replacement dentures. A dental prosthetist is first trained in laboratory procedures as a dental technician, or what used to be called a dental mechanic, learning how to manufacture a full range of denture types with various denture materials. This combined theoretical and practical educational grounding means the dental prosthetist understands intimately, the structure, materials, and interaction your denture has with your oral geography, mouth, and gums before they go on to complete the further university study required to certify as a dental prosthetist.
What is a dental technician or dental mechanic?
Unlike a dental prosthetist, a dental technician is not qualified to examine or assess a patient’s mouth for treatment. Rather, the dental technician’s work largely takes place in the laboratory where the recommendations of the dental prosthetist, dentist or appropriate oral health professional are followed, using the materials agreed upon by the patient and the consulting oral health professional. The technician uses measurements from impressions taken by the treating oral health professional to craft customised dentures for each patient.
The role of the dentist
A dentist is an oral health professional trained in the care of natural teeth, gums, and other oral tissues. While they may take impressions for the replacement of natural teeth with false teeth or dentures, they commission the making of the dentures to a denture clinic or dental laboratory with whom they work closely.
The role of the prosthodontist
The prosthodontist is an oral health specialist focusing on reconstructive, cosmetic and implant dentistry aimed at maintaining and restoring oral health, its function and aesthetics. Among other things, this may involve the reconstruction and restoration of missing teeth by various means such as porcelain or ceramic veneers, tooth implant overdentures, crown and bridgework, and removable dentures. A prosthodontist must have a general dentistry degree together with a post graduate degree to be certified in this specialty.
The roles of other allied oral care specialists
Like most disciplines, there is a myriad of specialisations seemingly shrouded in mystery for the lay person who just wants the best person for a successful outcome to their problem. While the following oral health professionals are not usually involved in the making and fitting of removable dentures, this is not always the case if you choose dental implants. Therefore, it helps to understand what their roles involve. Depending on factors like the condition of your mouth and gums, it is not unusual for more than one oral health professional to be involved in your treatment.
The role of the oral and maxillofacial surgeons
Oral or maxillofacial surgeons are trained medical doctors who specialise in treating the head, neck and jaw. Relevant to dentures and dental prosthetics, oral surgeons perform reconstructive surgery after trauma, dental implant surgery and corrective surgery for craniofacial abnormalities.
The role of the periodontist
The periodontist works in the specialised field of oral health dealing with gum disease and oral conditions affecting soft and hard tissues which support the natural teeth. It is the periodontist you see rather than a general dentist when you have gum or bone disease. A periodontist may be consulted for periodontal plastic surgery or implant placement. Training involves a general dentistry degree, time in general practice with additional years of university training to qualify as a periodontist.
The role of the endodontist
The endodontist specialises in the oral health area of root canal treatment, tooth pain, and infected or damaged tooth pulp issues. To qualify as an endodontist requires a general dentistry degree together with additional post graduate training.
How do I know who to see? Overlapping roles
As you may have gathered, it is not uncommon for more than one oral health specialist to collaborate with others in the field on a patient’s oral health needs, especially if the problem is a complex one. An example of this might be when a patient is referred by a dentist to an oral surgeon for bone grafts to enable post implants into the jaw to support artificial teeth.
However, if a patient is simply replacing a set of dentures, they will generally see a dental prosthetist. Whereas when teeth extractions are required, as is often the case when getting new dentures, then the patient will consult with a dentist first who will work closely with the dental prosthetist. If there are underlying gum or jawbone issues, such as the example cited above, the dentist will refer the patient on to the appropriate oral health specialist.
The role of the dental laboratory
The dental laboratory is the domain of the dental prosthetist and dental technician and will often specialise in the manufacture of certain types of dentures. Your prosthetist or dentist will ensure the correct choice for you in this case.
Choosing a denture clinic with an onsite laboratory is an advantage because it ensures your prosthetist will oversee the whole process of getting your denture, from its manufacture, to fitting of the denture, and its ongoing maintenance.
A final word
You are not on your own when it comes to choosing the right oral health professional for your denture issue. You begin with your dental prosthetist or dentist for an oral assessment, who will refer you on for treatment to the appropriate oral health professional if you should require it.
However, the majority of cases are more straightforward. If it’s a replacement denture you need, then your denture clinic is the place to go. Your dental prosthetist will oversee every aspect of getting a denture from helping you decide on the type of denture, to making and fitting the denture for you.
If you are having teeth extracted by your dentist first, then they will collaborate with a dental prosthetist or denture clinic to ensure your smooth transition to wearing a denture and its future maintenance.
Disclaimer – Always consult your oral health professional for expert advice about your unique personal situation. The information given here is of a general nature and for the purpose of education only. It is not meant to replace the advice of your oral health specialist
Northern Rivers Denture Clinic is located in the heart of Tweed Heads, southern Gold Coast. Finally have the smile you deserve with handcrafted, quality dentures.