Not much, according to LMT's poll of dental consumers. In addition to polling the general public, we wanted to learn how dentists and technicians perceive the public's knowledge of dental technology.
Professionally, dental technicians often feel that they are invisible men and women, their industry largely unknown to a general public who thinks that dentists make crowns and bridges and dentures in their back rooms after hours. Their feelings are validated by LMT's poll of dental consumers across the country.
Only 10% of dental consumers polled are certain they could explain what job functions are performed in a dental laboratory. When asked to explain the job of a dental technician, the majority of consumer respondents believe that a dental technician is a chairside assistant to the dentist. Although they understand that a dental technician does not perform the same functions as a dental hygienist, more than half don't know that a dental technician makes dental restorations.
Dental consumers also believe that technicians are almost always employed in a dentist's office and that they must complete a required course of study and be licensed in order to work in the field. However, most do realize that dental technicians cannot deal directly with the public which is logical given the fact that technicians' existence is all but hidden from public view. In some states, laboratories are not even permitted to advertise in consumer-oriented Yellow Pages.
Although the vast majority of dental consumers prefer to be informed about the materials put in their mouths, many are not. More than one-quarter say that the materials used in their dental restorations and fillings were "never discussed" and another 50% say they were "somewhat informed."
Dentist and technician perceptions
LMT conducted similar polls of dentists and technicians to learn about their perceptions of public awareness. Interestingly, those dentists who responded to our queries are slightly more confident than technicians about the public's knowledge of dental technology.
In these dentist-respondents' opinion, less than half of the general public knows that there is such a thing as a dental laboratory. They also believe that one-quarter can basically explain the job of a dental technician or articulate the differences in the jobs of the dental technician, dental assistant and dental hygienist. In comparison, technicians polled believe that only one-third of the general public knows that there is such a thing as a dental laboratory. They believe that less than 15% of dental consumers can basically explain the job of a technician or articulate the differences among the jobs of a dental technician, dental assistant and dental hygienist.
While dentists guess that 44% of the general public thinks that dental restorations are made by the dentist, technicians believe that 63% of dental consumers think that dentists make the restorations.
Dental technology in the limelight
Although the 86% of dentists responding to our poll feel that it's important to build public awareness of the dental profession and of treatment options available to patients, only 62% are in favor of efforts by dental laboratories to build public awareness of their role in the dental profession; 31% aren't sure if they support this endeavor.
The dentist-respondents who are willing to help their labs educate the consumer about dental technology say they are amenable to the following efforts:
- Letting their laboratories distribute public education brochures about their industry in their waiting room.
- Participating with laboratory owners and managers in a seminar to educate the public about the role of the dental technician.
- Helping lab owners and managers to educate students about dental technology as a career option.
Technician-respondents are optimistic about the prospect of educating the consumer market and getting dental technology into the limelight. The majority of those questioned say greater public awareness would:
- Improve dentists' attitudes toward dental technicians and laboratories.
- Enable laboratories to charge higher fees for their work.
- Increase the quality of laboratory-fabricated restorations.
- Enhance industry appeal for prospective employees.
- Reduce the number of low quality/low price laboratories.
- Lead to improved pay scales and working conditions for dental laboratory personnel.
More than 80% of the technician-respondents say that greater public awareness of dental laboratories and of the work dental technicians do would raise regulatory/licensure issues. The majority are in favor of legally enforced mandatory professional standards for all dental technicians and laboratories. Interestingly, these respondents feel that legally enforced professional standards would offer benefits similar to those achieved by greater public awareness as mentioned previously.
Almost half the respondents would be willing to volunteer one to three hours per month to help increase public awareness of the existence and the role of dental laboratories; 38% would be willing to spend three to 10 hours per month. Strategies of most interest include:
- Distributing public education brochures about dental technology through their dentist's waiting room.
- Handing out public education brochures to local high school and college guidance/career/placement offices.
- Participating in job fairs.
- Partaking in health fairs.
- Speaking at a high school or college "Career Day."
- Being interviewed by a local newspaper, radio or TV station about their business and/or industry.