The Dental Laboratory Technician Guide

The Leading Career Resource for Dental Laboratory Technician Jobs.

Welcome to DentalPost’s Dental Lab Technician Guide

The Dental Laboratory Technician is often not seen, but their impact is felt throughout the office or the offices they serve. This role requires the highest level of procedural oversight, skill, and execution. Whether you’re modeling implants, veneers, prostheses, or crowns, a technician’s role can vary depending on the size of the practice or lab. If you’re looking to become a dental lab tech, this guide will help you understand what you’ll need to know to be the best in the dental industry.

Dental Lab Technician Knowledge Center

Job Responsibilities

DentalPost takes a look at what are the duties and responsibilities of a Dental Lab Technician.

Guide to Hiring

Are you looking to hire a dental lab technician? Here are a few tips from our trusted experts.

Job Search

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Schools

DentalPost explores the benefits, career prospects, and things to consider when choosing a Dental Lab Technician school.

Salary

DentalPost explores the salary and outlook of the Dental Lab Technician career.

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Stories Featuring Dental Lab Technicians

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Everything You Need To Know About Being A Dental Laboratory Technician

The dental and orthodontic fields combine cosmetic artistry and science. Patients find appearance, self-confidence, and health enhanced through the efforts of a team that consists of a dentist or orthodontist, a dental hygienist, and you — the dental lab technician.

In this position, you promote smiles and oral health. Your work forms part of the field of prosthodontics, which involves the use of dental prostheses. Such items and those used by orthodontists created by your minds and hands fill gaps in mouths, straighten teeth, relieve the conditions that burden eating and sleeping and combat some of the most severe diseases.

The Job Description

As a dental laboratory technician, you work on all sorts of dental prosthetics and appliances. Depending on what specialized field of dentistry you’re in or where you work, you will make:

The Denture
These removable prosthetics replace missing teeth and come as a complete or partial set, depending on the patient’s needs. A complete denture set includes a base to cover the roof of a patient’s mouth (otherwise known as the palate) and a lower horseshoe-shaped part for the tongue. Patients who use partial ones may use the remaining natural teeth as replacements. You may handle acrylic resin, metal, or porcelain in making dentures.

Crowns
Dentists cap teeth with cracks, chips, weakness, significant wear and tear, and discoloration with crowns. As a tech, you might work with gold or other alloys, ceramics, resin, stainless steel, or porcelain that you fuse with metal.

Bridges
Bridges consist of pontics, or false teeth, that fill gaps in the mouths of patients. Lab techs use many of the materials used in crowns and a denture package for the pontics, which the adjoining teeth support — some with crowns. While many bridges use pontics, implants also work for this technique.

Ligatures: If you specialize in orthodontics, you will make ligatures. These mostly rubber bands attach the archwires of braces to the slots on the brackets. Ligature manufacturers use several colors or neutral tones. Wire ligatures afford more force and typically match the color of the brackets.

Retainers
As an orthodontic lab technician, you also dabble with retainers. These appliances keep teeth straight and preserve the work of the braces. Retainers also improve speech for those with impediments and breathing and remove bacteria.

A Word About Snoring

The dental field reaches beyond the use of teeth as instruments of chewing or appearance. As proof, dentists and other health professionals prescribe devices to treat the problem of snoring. That sound comes thanks to the vibration caused when tissues in the throat partially block the air passage.

If you specialize as a tech on sleep apnea issues, you will find yourself designing and manufacturing Mandibular Advancement Devices. These instruments move jaws and tongues forward to open the airways and reduce the vibrations that create snores.

Different Job Titles

If you join a specialty in the dental laboratory technician field, you might find alternative titles in your employment search. In a dental ceramic position, you will handle ceramic material, especially for bridges and crowns. Other job titles for dental laboratory technicians, often defined by the type of appliance or material used, include crown and bridge dental technician, orthodontic laboratory technician, waxer, denture technician, and porcelain technician.

Your Job Duties

As a dental laboratory technician, you either work in all or selected stages of dental appliance manufacturing. Most technicians start the process with the reading and comprehension of prescriptions and specifications from the dentists. You might use models or replicas of the appliance to understand the design.

The manufacturing process then turns to test, melt, or mix materials and then pour the mixtures into molds or frameworks. After that, models are created to remove excess materials and apply wax. In certain laboratories, you operate computers that fashion the appliances.

Different appliances might call for different tasks. For instance, bands or frames used especially in orthodontics require that you bend or solder metals. You use polishing machines or filers to remove excess materials and smooth services.

The Tools

Dental lab technicians employ various hand tools, small power tools, and equipment to create casts and molds. They operate articulators, dental impression trays, and other casting units. Discs are used to help cut, shape, and polish appliances. Furnaces, ovens, Bunsen burners, and other high-temperature equipment are used to melt and harden materials. You apply porcelain or wax with brushes and spatulas. As a technician, you handle small tools such as surgical knives, drills, and stereo microscopes that dissect light.

Approximately eight to ten percent of dental laboratories equip themselves with computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. In these laboratories, the computer, instead of impressions from the patient, designs the appliances and guides production. The precise measurements and movements offered by CAD/CAM attract dental practitioners thanks to the prospects of delivering treatments in a matter of days or even hours rather than multiple weeks. With the advancement comes less waste of materials in the manufacturing process.

Where to Find Tech Jobs?

The National Association of Dental Laboratories reports that, as of 2017, there existed 6,584 labs — not counting the 681 single-person shops. Most commercial labs carry two to three technicians, though you might find 100 or more in some of the largest operations.

You can expect to find among those hiring technicians:

  • Commercial dental laboratories
  • The U.S. Veterans’ Administration
  • Military hospitals and installations
  • Private hospitals
  • Dental schools
  • Orthodontist practices
  • Dental practices
  • Suppliers and manufacturers of dental products

By far, the “Medical Equipment and Supplies Manufacturing” field employs the most dental laboratory technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 28,590 technicians work in this industry. Dental offices rank second among employers, with 5,670 technicians. You can also find technicians jobs with outpatient care centers, federal agencies, universities, or other academic institutions.

The Environment

Whatever the employer, prepare yourself for potential health or safety hazards. According to a survey by the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), nearly 98 percent of respondents reported daily exposure to pollutants. Waxes when overheated, and resin or materials used in polishes can generate fumes. You also may operate hot equipment such as burners and ovens or use sharp objects. To mitigate against these health or safety risks, you will likely have gloves, safety goggles, and masks as part of your protective equipment.

Work Hours

Expect to pull full-time hours in this job. According to O*NET’s survey, nearly 69 percent of respondents work 40 hours per week. Almost a quarter of techs log more than 40 hours per week. A majority of those in lab technician jobs, to the tune of 65 percent, report having regular shifts.

What are the Prospects for Finding a Dental Lab Tech Job?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in its Occupational Outlook Handbook that 36,200 people held dental lab tech jobs in 2019. Based on the Bureau’s projections, the field should grow to 39,600 jobs by nine percent by 2029. That translates to growth that outpaces the four percent growth for jobs throughout the United States economy as a whole.

The need for dental wares and appliances should drive demand for techs and opportunities for jobs. On a worldwide basis, the market for cosmetic dentistry carried a value of $21.9 billion in 2020. By 2025, that figure should rise to $30.1 billion.

Statistics also support the stateside need and demand for cosmetic dentistry. The American College of Prosthodontists reports that nearly 40 million Americans do not have any natural teeth, with 178 million missing at least one tooth. In 2020, almost 41 million Americans said they used dentures. The manufacture of implant-supported crowns runs about 2.3 million per year.

Below are some possible or likely drivers, many of which are related to age or dental health:

  • Nearly three out of every ten Americans aged 65 and 74 lack any natural teeth. One source puts the figure of older Americans without teeth at 23 million, while 12 million have no natural teeth in one arch.
  • By 2035, the U.S. should have a projected population of 78 million older adults versus 76.4 million youth. That means, in that year, you’ll see more older adults than youth.
  • According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2020 report, 42 percent of Americans over the age of 30 have periodontitis (gum disease). Among men, the ratio is one in two.
  • Oral cancer has its hand in many dental complications, including in the younger set. Nearly one in every three cancer cases come from those under age 55. An estimated 14 percent of oral cancer diagnoses fell to patients under age 40.

Sleep apnea may enhance the demand for the manufacture of appliances such as Mandibular Advancement Devices. The disorder afflicts nearly 22 million Americans. Imagine the numerous effects of sleep apnea — heart failure, high blood pressure, stroke, and drowsiness contributing to motor vehicle crashes and incidents involving heavy machinery or industrial activity, making dental lab technicians important in dentistry.

Becoming a Dental Laboratory Technician

The Necessary Job Skills

In the lab, you simultaneously wear the hats of science, art, and high technology. The skills you need for success reflect the melding of these disciplines.

Dexterity

Finger dexterity ranks high among the skills required of dental lab technicians. The assembly of dental appliances calls for you to grasp, manipulate, and otherwise handle small hand tools such as surgical knives, drills, and spatulas. Dexterity also comes into play when you have to bend wires or shape small pieces.

Steadiness

Steady and controlled hands and fingers allow you to polish correctly, cut, drill and apply touch-ups to tiny crowns and other objects.

Technical Skills

The job description of a dental lab technician includes your ability to operate machines and computers. You use drills, ovens, Bunsen burners, and casting machines containing detailed operating and safety instructions.

Computer Skills

The high-tech nature of dental, medical, and other manufacturing fields requires that you become skilled with computers, three-dimensional printers, and software or other applications tailored to dental product manufacturing. CAD and CAM have a primary presence in eight to ten percent of the dental labs.

Creativity

You’re not in the widget business. Each patient for whom you fulfill a prescription or order brings a different shape and different needs. The dental lab tech jobs allow you to display your creativity in shaping, molding, and (if desired by the patient) decorating crowns or other appliances.

Attention to Details

As a dental laboratory technician, you read and execute prescriptions containing detailed measurements, material specifications, and other instructions. Exercising attention to detail allows you to remove excess materials and smooth surfaces with small or high-powered instruments. Failing to follow instructions may render the appliances you create uselessly and, when it comes to the equipment, can result in fires, damaged property, or injuries.

Interpersonal and Communication

Your job will not take you into significant contact with dental patients. This fact does not eliminate the need for you to practice interpersonal skills of teamwork and communication. Nearly eight out of ten technicians report to O*NET conducting face-to-face communications with other workers daily. Communication becomes critical as teams handle sharp objects and hazardous materials constantly.

Independence

While you might work with teams and have effective communications, you still need the ability to work independently. You may find yourself in small laboratories, with the typical one employing two or three techs at a time. Even in more prominent places, you might have your dentures to construct or components to fulfill.

Perception of Color

The selection and perception of colors play essential roles in the artist aspect of your job. After all, while the dentures, crowns, bridges, or other appliances should work, they should also accomplish aesthetic goals. Your skills in discerning how different forms of light affects appearance can help you create appliances that blend naturally with your teeth or other facets of your mouth.

Vision

You’ll need ample vision to perceive different colors and shades. With the small tools and items you handle and create, you’ll need the capacity to see objects at a close distance.

The Education

You can land a dental laboratory tech job with a high school diploma, a certificate, or a two-year associate degree from a community college, dental school, technical college, vocational school, or trade school. According to O*NET, nearly 43 percent of technicians have a high school diploma or certificate, with 22 percent earning a post-secondary certificate and 17 percent achieving an associate degree. Several four-year colleges and universities afford Bachelor of Science degrees in Dental Laboratory Technology.

As a rule of thumb, dental laboratory tech programs offer courses in subjects such as:

  • The anatomy of teeth
  • Dental materials
  • Methods for working with dentures, crowns, bridges and other dental appliances
  • Braces, ligatures, brackets and other appliances used by orthodontists
  • Porcelain techniques

In these programs, you will find practical experience or formal training opportunities through internships and supervised work at dental labs and clinics.

You will need a high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) to enter a dental lab tech program accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) or a college dental lab technology program. While you’re in high school, concentrate on classes in biology, anatomy, and chemistry. To help you get used to handling small tools and detailing, including an art class in your high school or even post-secondary curriculum.

Becoming a Certified Dental Technician

Being certified in the field is not a legal prerequisite, but it can build your resume.

You can achieve a Certified Dental Technician (CDT) status through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology. The NBC administers a written comprehensive certification exam, written specialty examination, and a practical examination in the same area as your specialty examination. You can choose from Ceramics, Crown & Bridge, Dentures, Partial Dentures, Orthodontics, and Implants as your specialties.

By default, the NBC requires that you log five years of experience or on-the-job training (or a combination of the two). If you have graduated from a dental laboratory technology program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), an arm of the ADA, two years of experience will suffice for eligibility.

Suppose you become a “Recognized Graduate” (RG) and get your degree from a CODA-accredited program. In that case, the NBC will let you sit for the CDT exam without any additional work experience as a technician. Recognized Graduates from non-accredited institutions must accumulate three years of on-the-job training or experience.

Earning the Recognized Graduate status calls for you to graduate from an “NBC Recognized Educational Institution.” Once you pass the 160-multiple choice exam within four years, you will have checked the box for the written comprehensive examination, and you can proceed to the written specialty and practical exam to earn your CDT.

Technicians Salaries

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes salary information for jobs in the dental lab technology field. Here are some numbers on Dental Laboratory Technicians:

  • The median salary stands at $41,430, which is higher than the $37,370 median for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians — which the Occupational Outlook Handbook reports as a group.
  • According to the Occupational Employment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top ten percent of dental lab tech salaries runs north of $65,820, while one in four techs make more than $53,590 per year.
  • Dental lab techs earn on average $44,330 annually, or $21.31 per hour.
  • The highest paid ones, by average, work in the federal government at a clip of $58,800 per year. Those in outpatient centers average $49,400 per year, followed by colleges, universities and professional schools at $47,080, and dentists’ offices a $46,040.
  • By state, average pay for dental lab techs ran highest in Virginia, at $55,050, followed by Kansas at $54,490 and New York at $52,660 per year.
  • Among metropolitan areas, the highest average pay comes from Ocala, Florida, at $94,800. Idaho Falls, ID ranks second at $64,810. In the New York City metro region, techs earn on a mean basis $57,550 — good for fifth.
  • If you’re interested in rural areas, the Northwest Lower Peninsula of Michigan occupies the top spot at $48,890. Southwestern Virginia follows in second place at $47,350. Technicians in Northwest Minnesota make $45,600 on average annually.

As a rule of thumb, a larger-sized lab translates to more pay — especially if you have significant experience. As reported by the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL):

Career Advancement

If you seek senior or supervisor jobs in the dental technology field, your best prospects lie in more extensive laboratories. With dental offices or smaller labs, you might work alone or with one or two fellow technicians. Whether you work in large or small settings, experience and performance in the labs can lead you to self-employment.

Academia may afford you advancement in your dental lab career. Depending on the school or program, an associate degree coupled with work experience and certification by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology may qualify you for a teaching position.


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