Dental Laboratory Technician
Dental laboratory technology is the art, science and technology of designing and manufacturing corrective devices for and replacements of natural teeth. A dental laboratory technician communicates and collaborates with the dentist to plan, design and fabricate dental prostheses for individual patients.
The dentist is responsible for providing dental laboratory with a prescription detailing final treatment choice and for placement of restoration or corrective device in the patient's mouth. The dental technician aids the dentist in material choices and case design and is responsible for fabrication of the final prostheses or corrective devices.
By fabricating esthetic dental prostheses that work well and by improving the patient’s smile, the dental laboratory technician influences not only patient’s physical and dental health but also improves his or her confidence and self-esteem.
Two types of dental specialties rely heavily on the skills of a dental laboratory technician:
Dental laboratory technology specialties include:
The profession of dental laboratory technology is:
Ideal candidates for this career possess excellent eye-hand coordination, attention to minute details, ability to recognize the differences in color and shape, manual dexterity and interest in material sciences and emerging technologies. Dental laboratory technology is ideal for those who are artistic as well as for those who are business and technology savvy. In fact, this is the only allied dental field that offers practitioners the chance to become entrepreneurs by opening their own dental laboratory business.
The changes that affect modern dental laboratory technology are:
Due to a shortage of technicians that is already affecting the field, it is certain that there is and will be a high demand for experienced dental technicians who can handle the needs of an ever-increasing number of dentists and their patients.
The work of dental laboratory technicians is extremely delicate and time-consuming. Salaried technicians usually work 40 hours/week, but self-employed technicians frequently work longer hours. Dental laboratory technicians generally work in clean, well-lighted and well-ventilated areas. Technicians usually have their own workbenches, which can be equipped with Bunsen burners or electric waxers; grinding and polishing equipment; hand instruments, such as spatulas and carvers; or they can work with computer design software, scanners and milling or printing equipment.
Most dental technicians are employed in small boutique or commercial dental laboratories with two to nine or more employees. Other labs are quite large employing more than 100 technicians. In large laboratories, dental laboratory technicians may work their way up to a supervisory level and may train new technicians. Some private dental offices have their own in-house laboratories. The military, hospitals, suppliers and manufacturers also employ a large number of dental technicians.
Experienced technicians may choose to become teachers in dental laboratory technology programs, sales representatives, technical support representatives or instructors for dental manufacturers or suppliers.
Salary Range and Outlook
Employment for dental laboratory technicians is expected to grow 7% between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. As prosthetics like veneers and crowns become less expensive, it is expected that there will be an increase in demand for them. Hourly wages and salaries vary according to location and other factors. The average wage for dental laboratory technicians who are just starting out is $12.74 per hour and the average salary is $30,000. Dental technicians with a lot of experience make an average wage of $22.79 per hour and the average salary is $70,310 per year.
About a Career as a Dental Laboratory Technician
About Health Care Careers
Note: Renata Budny, Assistant Professor, Restorative Dentistry, New York City College of Technology, and the National Association of Dental Laboratories reviewed this profile.
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Most dental laboratory technicians learn their craft on the job. They begin with simple tasks, such as pouring gypsum material into an impression and progress to more complex procedures, such as making dentures, crowns and bridges or bending wires.
Becoming a fully trained technician requires an average of three to four years of experience on the job, depending upon the individual's aptitude and ambition, but it may take a few years more to become an accomplished technician.
With technology becoming an ever-increasing part of the dental laboratory technician’s job, it would be useful for aspiring technicians to take courses in computer skills and programming.
Formal training in dental laboratory technology is available through community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes and the military. Training programs vary greatly both in length and in the level of training they provide. The most advanced training in dental laboratory technology is offered through two-year accredited associate degree programs followed by continuing education programs offered across the country. The American Dental Association website includes a list of accredited dental lab tech programs.
After receiving training, dental lab technicians may become certified by taking and passing the certified dental technician exam. Technicians can be certified in six specialty areas:
To qualify for certification, technicians must meet technical prerequisites and pass three separate exams. The prerequisites can be met by obtaining one of the following: having at least five years of on-the-job training or experience in dental technology, or by graduating from an accredited dental laboratory technician program.
Commission On Dental Accreditation
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Last updated: September 28, 2016
©2012 American Dental Education Association