A dental ceramist prepares dental prostheses such as crowns, bridges, and veneers. These dental professionals work in laboratory environments with materials like ceramics and metal, receiving three to four years of training in order to practice on their own as ceramists. The ceramist is a key person in the process of fitting a patient for a prosthesis, even though the patient may never meet or interact with this member of the dental care team.
The work of a dental ceramist starts when a dentist identifies a need for a prosthesis and discusses options with the patient. An impression of the patient's mouth is taken and sent to a lab, along with a prescription detailing the type of prosthesis required. In addition, photographs are taken to give the ceramist an opportunity to match the natural color of the patient's teeth. Color matching is important to make sure that the prosthesis blends in, unless the patient has specifically requested a specialty prosthesis.
The dental ceramist uses the impression as a guide when building up a dental prosthesis, using wax to create a form that will be used to make the prosthesis. When the wax version has been designed and fitted to match the impression of the patient's teeth, it is used to make a form and dental ceramic is poured into the form. Metal framing may also be involved to create a point of attachment for the prosthesis. Once the ceramic is set, the dental ceramist cleans and polishes the prosthesis, confirms that it matches the prescription, and sends it to the dentist.
This is very painstaking work. A dental ceramist needs to consider dental needs, making sure that the impression is the right size and shape for the patient's mouth, while also balancing aesthetic concerns so that the impression does not stand out. Some dental ceramists have a background in art and may even possess fine arts degrees in addition to their certifications as dental technicians.
Pay for a person working in a dental ceramist job depends on training, experience, and level of skill. Highly skilled artisans can sometimes command very high fees for their services and may be in high demand. People who are just starting out may have fewer employment options and receive a lower salary. A dental ceramist can opt to work for a specific lab, taking jobs as they come into the lab, or for a particular dentist, handling all prosthetic needs for that dentist.