Orthodontic technology – the skill behind the result

on 25th July 2018

Chair of the Orthodontic Technicians Association (OTA) Andrea Johnson tells us about her background and what the organisation aims to achieve

Can you please tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to become an orthodontic technician?

AJ: To be honest I never actually planned to be a dental technician, nevermind an orthodontic technician, the whole industry was completely unknown to me for most of my life so it was almost by accident that I stumbled across it.

I started working at the age of 13 with the usual paper rounds and cleaning jobs in the evenings after school. I worked my way up over the years in different retail positions but found that the higher up I got the less I enjoyed the job.

I had never heard of dental technology and it hadn’t even occurred to me that dental labs existed or that there was a need for them. Like most people, I thought the dentist made or ‘magic-ed’ up dentures as and when needed. So it was quite a curious surprise when I saw that a denture lab I never even knew existed just a 10-minute walk from my house was advertising for a trainee technician. I gave them a call and went for a look around and was fascinated by everything I saw. I was almost worried I had scared them off with my questions and enthusiasm. Luckily I didn’t and they agreed to take me on and train me up, I did one day a week day-release to get my base registerable qualification of a foundation degree.

After two years at the denture lab I saw a vacancy for a trainee orthodontic technician at the Royal Derby Hospital. Work in a commercial lab can be very unpredictable and I didn’t feel my position was secure or indeed challenging enough, so I applied for the position at the hospital. I have always had a passion for the NHS and the amazing work it does and so I was overjoyed when I was accepted into the role and was able to be a part of this fantastic organisation. I carried on my education whilst working full time and achieved a first class BSc honours degree.

It was during my early years at the hospital that I was introduced to the OTA, I found that they are a wonderful and very supportive group of people and we are like one big extended family, it is through them my passion for orthodontics has grown and grown.

What do you hope to achieve as the Chair and can you tell us about the association?

AJ: I have always felt that the OTA is like one big extended family and we look after each other as best we can. The sense of belonging to such a brilliant organisation is a wonderful feeling and as Chair it is my privilege and duty to guide the OTA council so that we may provide as much help and support to our members as possible.

The OTA was formed in 1971 and is a professional body devoted to the interests of orthodontics, it aims are to encourage the study, improve the practice and advance the knowledge of orthodontic laboratory and associated clinical techniques for the benefit of the orthodontic team and patient.

We also act as an advisory body to institutions and individuals including bodies such as the GDC and BSI on the use of all orthodontic laboratory techniques, materials and the service orthodontic technicians provide. In addition, we aim to widen, improve and develop the education and knowledge of those actively engaged in orthodontic technology.

What are the benefits of joining the OTA?

AJ: One great benefit is our website, our website has recently been updated and revamped to provide additional VCPD opportunities for our members. We are constantly growing and developing this all the time to keep in line with current GDC educational requirements and also to keep the content varied and interesting for our members, we have downloadable templates for Professional Development Portfolios (PDPs) for those unfamiliar with these to help them fulfill GDC requirements and it acts as a point of contact should any members or otherwise wish to contact any of our council members.

We have a quarterly newsletter, which keeps members up to date on the latest industry news, upcoming events, gives a full two hours VCPD for every member, offers and promotions from our advertisers are included as well and we have the news stories reflecting the lighter side of our profession. Discounted indemnity policies can also be obtained through being a OTA member, include in this the fact that we strive to keep our membership fee as low as and you have one of the cheapest professional packages around. We also have an annual conference.

Tell us about the OTA Awards.

AJ: The OTA runs and co-ordinates several awards – our newest one is the award for an award for outstanding contribution to the field of orthodontic technology; this is open to anyone and not just technicians.  Our first year of running this award saw Mr Gavin Carmichael receive the award.

We have our Aldridge medal which, following a generous donation by one of the association’s founders, Bert Aldridge, was launched in 2007. This award is designed to encourage members to present new research and developments in the field at the annual OTA conference. The best lecturer at the conference, as judged by the OTA member delegates who are present, is awarded the Aldridge Medal.

I am proud to say that I can now count myself as one of those select few who have won this prestigious prize as I was awarded it this year at our annual conference.

One of our favorite awards/competitions to run and coordinate is the BOS student award, the OTA has a great belief and passion for including and encouraging all dental technology students as much as possible and as such this competition is open to all students undertaking a recognised first level dental technology course within the UK.

It is also open to recently qualified technicians, qualified for less than two years at the time of the competition. There is a large monetary prize of £750 for the winner, a prize giving ceremony at the British Orthodontic Conference and an invitation for the winner to attend the OTA annual conference and our black tie dinner.

Our final award that we coordinate is the BOS award to an orthodontic technician for distinguished service. This award is designed to recognise a dental technician for their service to orthodontic technology throughout their career.

You recently had the OTA Conference in Manchester – can you tell us about that?

AJ: Our conference this year was held in the Manchester Convention Centre and was run alongside our clinical colleagues from the British Orthodontic Society at their annual conference in the same venue. This format was used in both 2016 and 2017 to allow all sections of the team to come together to network and chat etc

We had speakers from both the UK and around Europe covering a range of topics such as: medical emergencies, disinfection and decontamination, light cured and monomer free alternatives, exploring ideas and concepts related to innovation and change within orthodontic technology, digital orthodontics, 3Shape 3D digital programs for the construction of orthodontic appliances, holistic orthodontics, custom-made mouth guards in sport, face transplantation and much more.

With enhancements in dental technology, is there still a heavy ‘creative art’ element to the technician’s role?

AJ: The world of dental technology is changing, we like all other professions are moving into a digital era and for some this can be a bit scary and intimidating whereas for others it is exciting and something they wish to embrace, either way there is pretty much something for everyone right now.

As things change and adapt so will our profession, we will not lose the creative art but merely adapt it, I strongly believe that even though digital technologies will inevitably take the lions share of certain types of work there will forever be a place for handmade quality workmanship.

Where do you see dental technology going in the next decade or so?

AJ: Dental technology is becoming more digital, although on the face of it this looks like it is running away with and absorbing a large share of our work I do not believe that this is actually the case. So far especially in the world of orthodontics much of the technology is just used to archive our study models. For the production of actual appliances many are still just printing models to work on rather than printing the actual appliance itself.

The materials for the 3D technologies needs to vastly improve and I believe it will over the next 10 years, I believe that once this happens we may see more clinics performing intraoral scans which will then be sent to their chosen lab anywhere in the world who will then design, print off and check the appliance before returning it to the clinic for fitting.

Where we once have had technicians trying to adapt their knowledge to the new technology we may have coming into the profession people proficient in the digital technologies who we then have to train in the dental applications and background knowledge required.

What are the future plans for the OTA?

AJ: During my time as Chair I aim to not only continue the good work of our previous chairs but to also build on it and bring our association into the current century, to start we have a brand new website and a whole new brand identity.

My council and I will be striving to provide the not just the usual high quality advice and guidance to our members on legislation issues, but to also give them high quality CPD and to provide them with affordable indemnity insurance as a starter.

However; what I love the most about the OTA is the sense of belonging you get when you are a member, how we all support and guide each other and the incredible sense of ‘team’ that I get when with any member of the OTA, it is this that I wish to build upon the most. To give all our members that kind of ‘family’ support and belonging that they all deserve, to build upon the team and perhaps even bring others from different fields into the fold and extend our family to bring in more skills and expertise that will be shared with us all.


Name: Andrea Johnson

Qualifications: BSc Hons in Dental Technology

Position: Chair of the Orthodontic Technicians Association

Dental interests: Orthodontics, team working, dental education matters

Interests outside of dentistry: My charity Den-Tech, travel and reading


More details on our awards and prizes, including nomination forms and deadlines are available on the new OTA website www.ota-uk.org

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