Part artists and part engineers, dental laboratory technicians make people look and feel better by perfecting smiles and improving teeth.
They are behind the many dental devices that improve our daily lives, including orthodontics, crowns and bridges, and even false teeth. In short, dental laboratory technicians are a critical part of the dental care team.
If you enjoy designing and perfecting small objects, working with your hands, and working independently - and if you don't necessarily want to engage with new patients all day long - then you might want to sink your teeth into a potential career as a dental laboratory technician.
A dental laboratory technician combines art, science, and technology in designing and creating the devices that improve patients' dental health, smiles, and even their lives.1
Such dental devices include crowns, bridges, ceramics, dentures, implants, and orthodontics. Each of those requires a different kind of expertise, which makes for a career with a lot of variety and interesting challenges.
Two types of dental specialties in particular rely heavily on the work of dental laboratory technicians. One is restorative dentistry, which focuses on replacing lost teeth due to decay, accident, or illness. The other is orthodontics, which involves moving and stabilizing teeth for optimum function.
The American Dental Association says, "[Dental laboratory technicians] help to provide a valued health care service, positively affecting patients' oral health and self image."2
Specifically, dental laboratory technicians often work closely with dentists, orthodontists, and other technicians, but they have limited contact with the patients. They work behind the scenes, using impressions or molds of a patient's teeth or computer imaging software in order to get a perfect fit for the devices they create. They use materials such as plastics, wax, and ceramics to build the devices prescribed by the dentist or orthodontist.
Dental laboratory technicians may work in a large lab setting with many other technicians or in a private dental practice as the only laboratory technician on staff. In a large lab, a technician may be responsible for only a certain part of the process, such as polishing or testing devices. In a small practice setting, a technician would be responsible for seeing a project through from start to finish.3
Most dental laboratory technicians learn their skills over time and with practice. They must start with a high school diploma or equivalent. Some community colleges and vocational schools offer dental training programs.4
They may also begin as assistants working in a lab with more experienced technicians, learning their trade through practice and on-the-job training. Since the working conditions vary from place to place, the time involved can also vary; it may take 3 to 4 years of working with trained dental laboratory technicians to become one.
In 2014, dental laboratory technicians made a median annual salary of $33,430. The top 10 percent earned over $57,520, while those in the bottom 10 percent earned just over $20,000.6
Between aging baby boomers, an increasing public interest in creating good smiles for social media, and the rapid advancement of dental technology, employment of dental laboratory technicians is expected to grow between 2014 and 2024.7
This career also offers independence, as technicians don't usually have a lot of supervision. It also offers opportunities for creativity, as dental technicians must often work with the touch of an artist, creating functional devices to beautify patient's smiles.
Overall, a career as a dental laboratory technician may be a great way to help people using creativity, technology, and science. If you are interested in healthcare but would prefer to be behind the scenes, then consider taking a bite out of this potentially rewarding career path.
Please keep in mind employment and income cannot be guaranteed by any educational institution for students or graduates. Additionally, salary data cited in this article is based on median data provided by the United States Department of Labor, does not reflect starting or entry level salaries, and can vary widely based on geographic location.