How to Become a Dental Technician in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a dental technician. Learn about job duties, education requirements, and training to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Dental Technician degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Dental Technician Do?

A dental technician manufactures prosthetic devices, such as crowns, veneers and dentures. Through the use of molds and various materials such as molten metal, porcelain and plaster, dental technicians create custom fitted devices to improve dental health in patients. Dental technicians serve vital roles in overall oral hygiene health. Those who work in small laboratories may participate in all aspects of the production of dental appliances, while technicians in larger laboratories may only perform a single duty, such as repairing broken pieces or testing finished appliances.

See the table below for information about education requirements, expected salary and job outlook for this career.

Education Required High school diploma or equivalent; associate's degree preferred for some jobs
Training Required Primarily on-the-job
Certification Required Optional
Job Growth (2014-2024) 11%* (for all dental laboratory technicians)
Median Salary (May 2015) $37,190* (for all dental laboratory technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Dental Technician?

A dental technician, also known as a dental laboratory technician, is a technical specialist who fabricates prosthetic devices such as crowns, veneers and dentures. Every device is a customized fit created using molds taken directly from patients. Your duties as a technician include reading specifications and examining molds and models; filling models with molten metal or porcelain; polishing finished devices; testing devices to determine if they meet specs; and repairing broken devices. If you work in a dental office, you may also be required to create plaster molds.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or G.E.D. is the minimum level of education you need to become a dental technician. Postsecondary programs for technician training require a diploma for admission. High school-level courses in the sciences, computers, math and shop impart general background knowledge you can adapt to this discipline.

Step 2: Get a Certificate or Degree

Although most technicians train on the job, you can pursue formal training through a certificate or associate's degree program at a number of community and technical colleges. Programs at either level train you in dental terminology, dental anatomy, appliance fabrication techniques and infection control procedures. Associate's degree programs may have a broader curriculum than certificate programs, providing courses in dental history, lab management or advanced dental prosthetics. Certificates may be earned in 1-2 years and associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.

Step 3: Complete an Internship

Some dental technician programs include an internship or clinical practicum at a local dental lab. These provide you with an opportunity to observe lab procedures and acquire direct work experience building devices. Internships may also provide you with contacts you can draw on after you complete your formal education and sometimes lead to employment.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

A majority of your employment opportunities will be with medical equipment manufacturers and suppliers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Dentist offices provide the next largest source of jobs. A small number of positions are available with federal agencies, equipment wholesalers and postsecondary schools. Approximately 37,520 dental technicians were employed in 2015, and approximately 30,800 of those employed worked in the industry of medical equipment and supplies manufacturing. The median annual salary in 2015 was $37,190.

Step 5: Earn Certification

Although it's voluntary in most states, having certification demonstrates your competence in the field and may improve your prospects for advancement. The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology offers credentials in crowns and bridges, ceramics, orthodontics, complete dentures and partial dentures (www.nbccert.org). To obtain certification in a specialty you need to pass a comprehensive written exam consisting of multiple-choice questions, a specialty written exam and a specialty practical exam. You may certify in more than one specialty.

What are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical equipment repairers and medical appliance technicians are similar career choices to a dental technician. These professions typically work in medical offices, laboratories or healthcare facilities. They also require high school or associate-level training and provide hands-on job training and experience. Medical equipment repairers inspect and fix equipment and machines used in doctors' offices and hospitals to monitor or treat patients. To work as a medical equipment repairer or medical appliance technician, you may be able to specialize in a certain area, like oral hygiene.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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