How to Become a Dental Laboratory Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for dental laboratory technicians. Get the facts about education and certification options, potential job growth and duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Dental Technician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Dental Laboratory Technician?

Dental laboratory technicians (lab techs) act as clinical support staff for dentists. Their roles involve the crafting of devices such as dentures and crowns in a laboratory setting. While their interaction with individual patients may not be as extensive, the role they play in the treatment of dental patients cannot be understated. Areas of specialization for lab techs might include veneers and bridges. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a dental laboratory technician.

Degree Required None required; certificate and associate's degree programs available
Training Required On-the-job training may substitute for education
Education Field of Study Dental laboratory technology
Certification Professional certification is optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11%*
Median Salary (2015) $37,190*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Dental Laboratory Technician Do?

Dental laboratory technicians skillfully create crowns, bridges, veneers, dentures and other oral prosthetics in laboratories. You'll craft each prosthetic individually using models and small tools. The use of computer-aided equipment is increasingly common. Usually, you'll use measurements from dentists or take measurements from molds to create these prosthetics.

Step 1: Consider Your Career in High School

If you're a high school student interested in this career, consider shadowing a dental laboratory technician at their place of work. This enables you to see the daily activities and possibly witness the creation of a prosthetic. If you're certain of your career choice, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends preparing for your studies with courses in math, art, woodshop, and computer technology (www.bls.gov).

Step 2: Complete a Dental Laboratory Technology Program

According to the American Dental Association, the Commission on Dental Accreditation has accredited 24 dental laboratory technology programs (www.ada.org). Community colleges, vocational schools or dental schools offer programs leading to certificates or degrees, such as an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Laboratory Technology. Programs cover fabrication procedures, dental materials, science and oral anatomy and usually include some practical experience in a laboratory.

Step 3: Find a Job

The BLS reports that the demand for dental laboratory technicians is growing as cosmetic and restorative dentistry increases in popularity. For the years 2014 through 2024, an increase of 11% in job opportunities was projected by the BLS. While private dental offices sometimes employ dental laboratory technicians, the majority of work is done in commercial laboratories. In smaller labs, you may perform all stages of work. In larger labs, you may specialize in one area.

Step 4: Complete Job Training

It takes a dental laboratory technician an average of 3-4 years to become fully trained, according to the BLS. Even if you've completed a 2-year training program, you'll need to go through a period of on-the-job training to learn the techniques practiced at your particular laboratory. Graduates of an ADA-accredited program may test to become a Recognized Graduate (RG), a voluntary credential which allows you to skip the written exam for certification.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Once you completed a training program recognized by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology, you can pursue voluntary certification to become a Certified Dental Technician (CDT). You can choose from five specialties: orthodontics, ceramics, bridge and crown, partial dentures and complete dentures (www.nbccert.org). You may be able to advance into supervisory or management positions within the laboratory. If you passed the RG exam, you can earn this credential without taking the comprehensive examination for CDT status.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to take your career elsewhere in the field of dentistry, you might consider becoming a dental hygienist. These professionals are in charge of dental cleanings and x-rays, and typically review patient history before dentists themselves perform examinations. If dentistry isn't your thing, you might also think about a career as a dispensing optician, where you will fit eyeglasses and contact lenses with the prescriptions of optometrists and ophthalmologists. Finally, medical equipment repairers work to service and maintain existing equipment that keeps medical offices afloat.

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