What you'll do: As a dental lab technician, you'll fill orders from dentists for a variety of dental appliances. You'll work with sophisticated equipment and a broad range of materials to create tooth replacements that are realistic and aesthetically pleasing, as well as functional.
Where you'll work: Commercial dental laboratories, private dental offices, hospitals (including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' hospitals), dental schools, dental manufacturers and suppliers, private practice
Degree you'll need: 2-year dental lab technician program leading to an associate's degree or certificate
Median annual salary: $36,090*
Full Job Description
Using a dentists' detailed written directions, and molds of a patient's teeth or oral soft tissues, you'll make the following items:
- Full dentures for patients who are missing all of their teeth
- Removable partial dentures or fixed bridges for those who are missing only one or a few teeth
- Crowns, which cover the tooth and are designed to restore its original size and shape
- Veneers, which are bonded to the tooth surface to improve the appearance of discolored, worn, chipped or misaligned teeth
- Orthodontic appliances and splints used to help straighten and protect teeth
Dental lab technicians can also specialize in one of five areas: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures and ceramics.
Dental Lab Tech Education
Although each program has unique entry requirements, a high school diploma or GED is a standard prerequisite for applying to an accredited dental lab technology program.
Some dental technicians begin careers without a college degree, but you'll find it's easiest to start your career by pursuing formal training through an accredited program. There are 2-year dental lab technician programs leading to an associate degree or certificate; a few 4-year bachelor programs are also available. These programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, technical colleges, universities and dental schools.
In addition to formal training, you'll find the following skills will serve you well in your dental technician career:
- Ability to do precision work with your hands
- Ability to work independently
- Attention to detail and aesthetics
Dental Lab Tech Certification
There is no license required for dental lab technicians, but optional certification is available. Certification recognizes a dental lab technician's knowledge and technical skills. It involves passing an exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology. In order to take the certification exam, you must have completed an accredited dental laboratory technology program and have had two years of professional experience, or, if you've been trained on the job or through a non-accredited program, you can take the exam after five years of work experience as a dental lab technician. Upon passing the exam, you become a Certified Dental Technician (CDT).
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians.
*Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.