These technicians fabricate, design, alter and repair dental devices such as dentures, crowns, bridges, inlays and other appliances that straighten teeth and correct smiles. Dental Laboratory Technicians read detailed prescriptions and specifications, and examine models and impressions to determine the design of dental products to be constructed for dental patients. This may involve taking molds of patient teeth, using small hand tools and dental technology, molding with wax, mixing metals, plaster, porcelain, or acrylic pastes, and pouring or inserting materials into molds or over frameworks to form dental prostheses or apparatus used in the correction of dental irregularities. Dental Laboratory Technicians may work alongside or supervise other dental technicians, dental assistants and other dental professionals under the guidelines of the dentist in charge.
Dental Laboratory Technicians Job Summary
- More than half of jobs as medical and dental technicians are in small privately owned firms.
- Most dental laboratory technicians learn their craft on the job, but many employers prefer to hire those with some experience.
- Jobs as dental laboratory technicians are growing at a faster than average rate for related careers in medical and clinical settings.
- Job opportunities should be favorable because fewer people seek out these jobs in general; metropolitan areas offer a high number of dental laboratory technician opportunities.
- Dental laboratory technicians earn higher starting salaries as compared to other medical and clinical technicians.
Work Environment for Dental Laboratory Technicians
Many Dental Laboratory Technicians work a steady 30-40 hour work week in a clinical and laboratory setting, which requires standing, stooping, lifting and sitting for long periods of time. Technicians generally work directly with dental professionals to examine the teeth and mouth structures of patients in order to design new or replacement dental and orthodontic devices to correct dental problems. The lab environment may include the use of hazardous dental materials, hand tools, lathes, metal and sculpting instruments, kilns and ovens for setting ceramic dental products, heating and mixing devices. In addition, Dental Laboratory Technicians may use computerized equipment which can include visual and design tools. This environment requires knowledge of standard laboratory procedures, excellent hand and eye coordination, and superb listening and reading comprehension skills.
Education, Training and Licensing
While there is no mandatory formal education, training or licensing to become a dental laboratory technician, there is a requirement to have earned at least a high school diploma or an equivalent to qualify for entry-level work. High school students should concentrate on courses in math, science, as well as classes in metal and wood working, art, drafting and computers. Students who wish to operate their own laboratory may also wish to take courses in business and management.
Many dental laboratory technicians are hired with a high school diploma and obtain training on the job or through apprenticeships with other dental laboratory technicians or dental staff. Learning is conducted by supervised practice of dental procedures. Dental technicians in training may be allowed to pour casts of teeth, then progress to more complicated tasks, such as designing crowns and dentures, as knowledge and skill increases. The time that it takes for a dental laboratory technician to learn more advanced skills depends on the dental environment where work is conducted and the individual technician’s learning ability.
Some dental laboratory technicians choose to go on for more formal education in this field. Certification is voluntary (with the exception of three states – Kentucky, Texas and South Carolina) and may be obtained by an accredited school approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association or directly from the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.
Training in dental laboratory technologies is offered by community colleges, universities, technical-vocational schools and the military. As of 2008, there were 20 accredited programs in dental laboratory technology offered in the United States which offered two to four year programs leading to a certification or degrees in dental laboratory specialties.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
Dental laboratory technicians held 46,000 (more than half) of the total medical, dental and orthodontic laboratory technician jobs, according to the most recent research published in May 2009 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
BLS expects employment in this field to grow 14% from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This growth results from an aging public interested in cosmetic prosthesis growing at an increasing rate in many regions. Skilled dental laboratory technicians who can build life-like replacement teeth to replace older filings, crowns, bridges and dentures are the highest in demand. Technicians in metropolitan areas with advanced skills have the best chance of finding work. Technological advances are expected to maintain this growth over time.
How much do dental laboratory technicians earn a year? The BLS reports indicate that the average annual wage for dental laboratory technicians was $37,690 USD as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned about $34,820. While the lowest 10% of dental laboratory technicians earned an annual income at or below $21,370, the top 10% earned upwards of $58,390 per year.