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Dental Laboratory Technician Job Description, Career as a Dental Laboratory Technician, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school plus training

Salary: Median—$14.93 per hour

Employment Outlook: Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dental laboratory technicians fill prescriptions from dentists. They construct and repair dentures (false teeth), bridges, crowns, and other artificial tooth replacement devices (prosthetics) that dentists order for patients. They work from the dentist's written instructions and from plastic or wax impressions of the patient's mouth.

Dental laboratory technicians work with plaster, wax, porcelain, and plastic, as well as with gold and other metals. They use many different kinds of tools and equipment. They use hand tools for carving and shaping. Then they use electric drills, presses, lathes, and high-heat furnaces for completing each dental piece.

Some dental laboratory technicians specialize. They may work chiefly on crowns and bridges, or with porcelain. Generally these specialists work in large laboratories. Workers in smaller laboratories or in dentists' offices usually perform all laboratory work that is needed.

Education and Training Requirements

A person usually needs a high school diploma to become a dental laboratory technician. High school courses in art, ceramics, metalwork, and chemistry are helpful. Many technicians are trained on the job or in apprenticeship programs. Dental laboratory trainees work under the supervision of experienced technicians. They start by doing simple jobs, such as mixing plaster and pouring it into molds. Apprentices also receive classroom training. The training period generally lasts three or four years.

An increasing number of technicians are entering formal training programs after high school. These programs usually last two years and are followed by about Dental lab technicians use hand tools to carve and shape dentures, bridges, crowns, and other dental devices. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) three years of practical experience. Technicians can become certified dental technicians by passing tests given by the National Board for Certification established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories.

Dental laboratory technicians should have good vision and color sense. They also need manual dexterity for handling the tiny pieces of material they use in their work. Because the work demands precision, technicians should have patience and should enjoy detail work.

Getting the Job

Interested individuals can apply directly to dentists' offices and laboratories for jobs and training. If candidates are attending school, they can ask their placement office for help in finding a job. Private and state employment agencies sometimes list openings for dental laboratory technicians. Job seekers should also check the newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Dental laboratory technicians can advance as they gain experience. They can become experts in a specialized kind of laboratory work. In large laboratories, some technicians become managers or supervisors. Some technicians start their own laboratories. To do this, they need capital or financing to buy equipment. They also need knowledge about running a business.

Employment opportunities are expected to grow slower than average through the year 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although employers find entry-level positions hard to fill, job prospects are only fair. Dental care is better in the aging population than decades ago, and the need for dentures has lessened. The demand for cosmetic dental devices, however, is on the rise.

Working Conditions

Dental laboratories are found mostly in large cities and heavily populated states. Most are very small, but a few employ more than fifty technicians. Technicians usually work forty hours per week. Those who are self-employed may work longer hours.

Technicians generally work independently. Because each job in a laboratory is different, the work is diverse and interesting. It is not strenuous work, but it does require close attention to detail. Dental laboratories are generally pleasant places in which to work, although there is sometimes pressure when deadlines must be met.

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary depending on technicians' experience and area of specialization. Trainees in dental laboratories average only slightly above the minimum wage. However, earnings in this field increase greatly with experience. The median salary for dental technicians was $14.93 per hour in May 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Self-employed technicians can earn more.

Where to Go for More Information

American Dental Association
Commission on Dental Accreditation
211 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
(312) 440-2500

National Association of Dental Laboratories
325 John Knox Rd., Ste. L103
Tallahassee, FL 32303
(800) 950-1150

National Board for Certification in Dental Technology
325 John Knox Rd., Ste. L103
Tallahassee, FL 32303
(800) 684-5310

National Dental Association
3517 16th St. NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 588-1697

Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, as well as health insurance and pension plans. Self-employed dental laboratory technicians must provide their own benefits.

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