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Dental Technician: Job Duties, Career Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Research what it takes to become a dental technician. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Do Dental Technicians Do?

Dental technicians craft oral prostheses, such as replacement teeth, dentures, crowns, bridges, and orthodontic appliances. Working on orders from dentists, these professionals are tasked with making replacement dental fixtures to precise detail with a variety of materials and tools. It is possible to specialize in different types of materials or specific types of prostheses depending on your skills.

The following chart gives you an overview of a career as a dental technician.

Degree Required High school education minimum, but postsecondary certificates or associate's degrees are available
Training Required On-the-job training is an option in lieu of a degree or certificate
Education Field of Study Dental laboratory technology
Certification Voluntary professional certification in six specialties is available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 11%*
Median Salary (2018) $40,440*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Job Duties as a Dental Technician?

Your primary duty as a dental technician is building prostheses for dentists. When a dentist decides that a patient needs a crown, bridge, or other dental prosthetic, they'll take a cast of the patient's mouth and send a prescription to you. Using the plaster casts, you'll build substitute teeth using metal, wax, porcelain, ceramic, or acrylic.

Once a tooth has been crafted, you'll layer porcelain over the structure to acquire the desired size and color of the tooth. This job requires precision and the use of many small hand tools. Generally, you may specialize in orthodontic appliances, ceramics, crowns and bridges, partial dentures, or complete dentures.

What Is the Career Outlook for this Career?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for dental laboratory technicians should increase as the American population ages (www.bls.gov). Today's preventative dental care allows older people to keep their own teeth, use cosmetic enhancements, and replace lost teeth with partial dentures. Because of this, the BLS states there should be an 11% increase in employment for dental laboratory technicians from 2018-2028.

As of May 2018, dental laboratory technicians made a median salary of $40,440, according to the BLS. The top-paying areas for this career were Virginia, New York, Montana, Alaska, and Connecticut.

How Do I Enter this Career?

If you're interested in becoming a dental technician, you can learn through on-the-job training, since there are no specific educational requirements. However, colleges do offer certificate and associate degree programs in dental laboratory technology. These programs teach you how to craft teeth through courses in metallurgy, morphology, lab management, ceramics, denture construction, and orthodontic instruments.

The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC) offers voluntary certification for dental technicians (www.nbccert.org). To become a certified dental technician (CDT) in one of the six specialties, you must complete three exams. To sit for these exams you must have five years of experience as a dental technician or have completed an educational program. Continuing education is required to maintain certification. As of 2017, four states require certification or continuing education in the field.

Alternatively, if you perform limited tasks in a specialized area, you may participate in NBC's modularization program. You can take written and practical exams to earn a Certificate of Competency in your specific skill area.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With similar levels of education, you can find many other jobs with related duties to pursue. Medical equipment repairers work in the broader medical field, making and repairing tools and instruments used in hospitals or other healthcare settings. Dispensing opticians help to fit eyeglasses and contact lenses based on a person's prescription, as well as make recommendations about the kinds of frames and lenses for customers to purchase.