How to build your confidence as a dental technician

Beth Brown discusses the correct mindset for a dental technician, how to build your confidence and her advice for other technicians. 

When Beth first started working as a dental technician, she ‘hated every minute’. She was thrown into the deep end in her first few weeks and had no guidance in the lab while the owner was on holiday.

Despite this, the experience made her a better dental technician and she managed to find her feet.

A few years later, Beth found herself in a rut as her life got very busy – building a business, studying for her master’s degree and moving to Australia to work in a new lab. As a result, she lost the passion she once had for dental technology.

Here, Beth discusses how she found her confidence as a dental technician and her advice for others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

Change your mindset

I took many different opportunities to grow as a dental technician.

I knew I wanted to do my masters degree before I finished my first qualification, but I didn’t realise just how much it would help me grow.

It was a huge mindset shift for me and it’s taught me so much. They teach you how to teach yourself. It allows you to use what you have learned to help with real-life cases in the future, because we all know that no case is the same.

I haven’t finished my masters yet, but even now I know that if I do get a job and I’m like, ‘What do I do?’ I know that I can overcome whatever problem I have in front of me. I’ll say ‘Well, I’ll research some things about it and then I’ll see what’s already out there, if other people have tried anything, and I’ll have discussions with people and actually test ideas that come up’.

This is what I was doing for case studies in my masters but in real life, as long as you have great dentists who are open to growing with you and who are good at managing patient expectations, everyone can learn a lot.

That was a big thing for me to grow because it’s changed my whole mindset. I don’t have to just do something just because another technician told me to. Now I think: ‘Yes, but where did you hear this? Did you just make it up or have you actually got things to back this up? Does it work?’ That was a big turning point for me – realising that not everyone has it all figured out.

There are still technicians out there that are old school and they’re just stuck in this mindset of, ‘No, I’m not changing, I’m not going digital, I refuse.’ And the harsh truth is that they will be left behind.

So I think go with the flow and be open to learning anything and everything. That’s the mindset I’ve had from the beginning and so far it’s working out well.

Try new things

Also, trying new things at work. If you’ve got a spare half an hour in the lab, my advice would be to go and see what someone else is doing. Or if there’s something that you have wanted to learn, take it upon yourself to actually stay behind an extra 20 minutes, get a model and have a go.

That’s what I did with composite at my last lab. I had never used it before. My lab said I could try it and I sat there for hours on Friday nights. I didn’t learn from another technician, I watched videos, googled instructions and used trial and error. I took pictures and said, ‘Right, that was wrong or looks slightly weird. Next time I’ll try this.’

I think a lot of technicians can see the motivation in people, and I hope they are willing to share their knowledge and skills with the next generation. There are apprentices everywhere that I can see wanting to learn and it also makes me want to teach them.

So, I think I absorb as much as everyone is willing to give me but also put in effort for myself too. I’ve noticed people are more willing to teach you when they can see that you’re also self-motivated.

And with courses, well I just take all the courses. Whatever’s available, I’m like, ‘Yes, I have to do it.’ I just think it’s that open mindedness of knowing that dentistry is evolving. It’s constantly growing so I have to keep up.

Be open to improve

The advice I would give to other dental technicians who might find themselves in a similar situation is always be open to improve. Ask questions.

The number of times I sit next to a technician when they are working and I’ll be like a child, asking, ‘Why?’ a million times. ‘But why are you doing that? Is there not anything else you could do? What if this happens?’ So, I just do that all the time – online and in person, I’m annoying in any situation.

I also found a mindset shift as well when I decided that it’s okay to challenge things. A lot of technicians think that they’re well beneath dentists, so whatever they say has to go. It’s really sad and I think these days it is slowly changing to be more balanced, which I’m really happy about.

But obviously there’s still some people that are in that mentality, whether you are the dentist or the technician. I think it’s great to have the confidence to say, not that they are wrong, but ‘Can we discuss this? Because I have an idea that I think might work,’ or, ‘I’ve had this situation before and I found that…’.

Speak up

In my first year as a technician, I just did whatever the dentist said. But now, I have the confidence to speak up.

I always remember this one case which was an upper one tooth partial for a 98-year-old dementia patient. Instructions included a small baseplate due to a vaulted palate and ‘not tight’ due to manual dexterity.

There were two things I questioned. Number one was does the patient need that one tooth? They have all the rest of their teeth meaning this would be purely for aesthetics.

The second thing was that they could easily swallow it and it would probably be traumatic and difficult to get impressions due to the dementia. So, we had that discussion and the dentist actually said, ‘You know what, I’m going to need to think about these points. She just wanted a tooth so I gave her one.’

After our discussion, the dentist spoke to the patient, her family and the workers at the care home. They decided the treatment wasn’t worth it because the benefits didn’t outweigh the risks.

So that is something you can always do. You can always tell a dentist if you don’t feel comfortable doing something – because you are registered too. It’s not just what they say goes. It’s still your problem as well. I didn’t feel comfortable making that appliance and it was great to share thought processes with others to improve patient care.

Take CPD seriously

I’d also say take your CPD seriously because I know that a lot of members of the dental team just do it to make up their hours. They’re not interested. Some people just want to stay registered so they can carry on working. They don’t want to learn anymore.

But if you want to grow, you’re not going to be able to do that without learning new things, taking on new challenges and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

As soon as you qualify, it’s like learning to drive. You get your license, you have no idea how to drive, you hit every curb, you can’t park. It’s the same with us. You have to qualify, but then you have to start actually learning about real life. You don’t get the same perfect models you’d get at university. That’s how I always describe it because it’s just so true.

That’s what made me want to create the platform that I have.

Worldwide community

When I go on hands-on courses, I always feel a bit nervous because I think I won’t be at the level I should be at before I start the course. I worry that I’ll walk in and everyone will be at a much higher level.

I also find it hard to organise hands-on training. How will I get there? Will I have to pay for accommodation too? Am I going alone? I wanted to make something for every technician so that they can join in no matter what their situation.

I have online CPD courses, regular webinars, 1-1 coaching for prosthetic technicians and I also advertise job opportunities worldwide. Even though I have many other responsibilities to juggle and I lost my passion this year, it has still been so successful and I cannot wait to see what 2023 has in store.

I wanted to build that worldwide community of dental technicians where we all learn and grow together, so I hope many more join my ever-growing passion project in the future.

I never want my platform to just tick boxes. It’s there to teach and inspire, to help you develop and progress.

Read Beth’s journey to becoming a dental technician and how she found her feet.

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