How to Become a Dental Laboratory Technician

dental lab technicianThe dental lab technician has an interesting job. They use impressions of patients’ teeth in order to construct bridges, crowns, dentures, and dental appliances. They do not have contact with the patients themselves.

Their work orders are very complex and detailed. The dentist writes a prescription that the lab technician fills. They must use plaster or other pastes to pack the impressions made of the patient’s teeth by the dentist themselves.

Using this process, they create a mold that must set and harden. Then they have to put the appliance they’ve created on an gadget which imitates jaw and bite movements to check for the size and shape of the teeth around the appliance and look for gaps in the gumline.

Any individual teeth required in an appliance must be hand-carved and sculpted by the lab technician. The lab tech wants the appliance and prosthetic to look natural as well as to enhance performance.

Sometimes the lab technician job description includes repair of cracked, broken, or damaged appliances.

Dental Lab Technician Duties

The dental lab technician uses small hand tools to file and polish appliances. Dental articulators, finishing or polishing disc, casting machines, furnaces, and lathes are all staples of the dental lab technician.

They also work with porcelain, plastic, and wax. Sometimes they utilize computer programs to better design appliances or utilize impressions. If the lab technician works in a small office, they may perform all of the work from start to finish.

At larger labs, there may be a more specialized division of labor, so that one dental lab technician waxes and another polishes.

Within the dental lab technician field, there can specialization in:

  • orthodontic appliances
  • dentures
  • partial dentures
  • crowns and bridges
  • ceramics
  • implants

Learn on the Job vs School

Many dental lab technicians learn on the job as assistants. You must have a high school diploma to do this job.

Those who are interested in this field take a curriculum heavy in math and science, art, and computer programming. But many opt to complete a certification or preparation program at a college, university, or vocational school. The curriculum includes dental anatomy, dentures, ceramics, and partial dentures.

If a dental lab technician does not undergo a training program, they can apply for certification through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBCCERT) once they have five years on the job.

There are three exams to pass to get certification as a Certified Dental Technician (CDT). There are six specialty areas:

  • orthodontic appliances
  • dentures
  • partial dentures
  • crowns and bridges
  • ceramics
  • implants

Dental Lab Technician Salary

Average salary is above $30,000 annually. Candidates should be detail-oriented, possess high dexterity and technical skills.

The benefits of dental lab technician include flexibility. Candidates can work for commercial labs, advance to department head so they supervise other techs. They could even own their own dental lab.

Some dental lab technicians go on to teach dental technology courses, conduct research, or even go into the marketing side of appliances. Lab technicians work unsupervised and employ a lot of creativity to their job.

The successful candidate will possess artistic ability and creativity. Other traits which are critical to success as a dental lab technician are time management, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and visualization.

Eye-hand coordination is a key trait, as is good color perception. Patience with minute details and tedious tasks is also critical. There is a lot of job security in this filed and many dental lab technicians report high job satisfaction because their creations greatly improve the lives of the patients they serve.

A Great Career for The Creative Type

The artistic element of the lab technician job description cannot be overstated. Every single piece the lab technician creates is unique. It must replicate the function of the patient’s natural teeth, jaw, or mouth.

The dental lab technician’s primary challenge is to create a piece that has both perfection in form and design and also accommodates the imperfection of the mouth it is going into. Both elements are necessary for the patient’s smile to look natural to the observer.

Blending Science and Art

The science aspect is big as well since dental lab work is a science that utilizes continually advancing technology and materials. Thus, the dental lab technician is that individual within whom science and art is perfectly blended.