If you are interested in dentistry and value vocational flexibility, independence, creativity, security, and growth potential, a Dental Lab Technician (DLT) position may be the perfect role for you. DLTs can launch their careers in a relatively short amount of time (~2 years of education), have a variety of work environments to choose from, are able to exercise artistry on a daily basis, enjoy satisfaction from positively impacting patients’ lives, and can rest assured that their qualifications will be in increasing demand as people live longer and need advanced dental care. Read on to learn more about this exciting career path.
Education & Certification
DLTs generally pursue a 2-year degree or certificate; however, a few 4-year baccalaureate programs in dental technology are also available and some DLTs acquire their skills exclusively from on-the-job training. Acceptance into a dental technology program almost always requires a high school diploma. A list of accredited programs can be found on the Commission on Dental Accreditation website.
If desired, DLTs can become certified by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology by passing three exams: Written Comprehensive exam (or written Recognized Graduate exam, if eligible), Written Specialty exam, and Practical exam (taken in the same category as the Written Specialty exam). Certified Dental Technicians (CDTs) specialize in at least one area: complete dentures, partial dentures, crown and bridge, ceramics, orthodontics, and implants.
Daily Duties & Work Environments
While what a DLT does on a day-to-day basis will vary based on their chosen career path and specialty, their overarching responsibility is to create attractive and functional dentures, crowns, bridges, veneers, and/or orthodontic appliances following dentists’ written instructions and impressions/molds of patients’ teeth or oral soft tissues. DLTs don’t usually work directly with patients unless under the supervision of a licensed dentist. They use waxes, plastics, precious and non-precious alloys, stainless steel, porcelains, composites, polymer glass combinations, and other materials. Dexterity and an astute attention to detail are a must (the ADA describes dental lab technology as “both a science and an art”).
DLTs are employed by dental offices, schools, hospitals, military facilities, and commercial labs. They may also be enlisted by dental manufacturers and suppliers or choose to become a lab owner/operator themselves.
Earning Potential & Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2014 report, DLTs make an average annual wage of ~$40K, with the highest percentile earning as much as ~$61K. DLT jobs are expected to grow by 7% between 2012 and 2022.
Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014; 51-9081 Dental Laboratory Technicians & Occupational Outlook Handbook; Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians