Dental Laboratory Technology
Dental Laboratory Technology is both a science and an art. Since each dental patient's needs are different, the duties of a dental laboratory technician are comprehensive and varied. Although dental technicians seldom work directly with patients, except under the direction of a licensed dentist, they are valuable members of the dental care team. They work directly with dentists by following detailed written instructions and using impressions (molds) of the patient's teeth or oral soft tissues to create:
- full dentures for patients who are missing all of their teeth
- removable partial dentures or fixed bridges for patients who are missing only one or a few teeth
- crowns, which are caps for teeth that are designed to restore their original size and shape
- veneers that enhance the esthetics and function of the patient
- orthodontic appliances and splints to help straighten and protect teeth
- Dental technicians work with a variety of materials including waxes, plastics, precious and non-precious alloys, stainless steel, a variety of porcelains and composites or polymer glass combinations. Many technicians acquire skill in the use of sophisticated instruments and equipment while performing laboratory procedures. It is important for the technician to help create tooth replacements that are both attractive and functional.
Flexibility: Dental laboratory technology is a flexible career offering several opportunities for advancement. Experienced technicians can find well-paid positions in commercial laboratories based on their technical or communication skills, become department heads in larger laboratories where they would have supervisory responsibilities, or potentially own their own laboratory. Dental technicians also may teach dental technology courses in educational programs and apply their knowledge to research, sales and/or marketing of prosthetic materials, instruments and equipment.
Independence: Technicians perform much of their work without close supervision. They often experience the satisfaction that results from taking an entire project from start to finish.
Creativity: Dental laboratory technology requires the skill and touch of an artist. Technicians need to be creative when they make prostheses.
Security: The services performed by dental technicians will always be needed. With the population growing older, there will be a continued demand for prostheses which improve these individuals' nutrition, appearance and ability to speak clearly.
Personal fulfillment: Dental technicians experience the satisfaction that they help to provide a valued health care service and positively affecting patients' oral health and self image. Technicians play a significant role in the delivery of dental health care and take pride from producing a hand-crafted product.
With advancements in technology and materials, there is an increased demand for restorative and cosmetic dentistry. As a result, there currently is a great demand for dental laboratory technicians. Employment opportunities will be excellent well into the next century.
Most dental laboratory technicians work in commercial dental laboratories employing from 2 to 200 people. The average laboratory employs about five to ten technicians who may provide a full range of dental prosthetic services, or specialize in producing one particular type of prosthesis (e.g., removable partial dentures, crown and bridge, etc).
Additionally, some opportunities are available in private dental offices for technicians who like close one-on-one contact with a dentist. Employment opportunities also may be available in dental schools, hospitals and companies that manufacture dental prosthetic materials. Dental laboratory technology education programs offer some teaching positions for experienced technicians.
The salary of a dental laboratory technician depends primarily upon the skills demonstrated and responsibilities associated with the specific position and the geographic location of employment. Dental technicians can earn salaries equal to personnel in other health care occupations with similar training and experience. Experienced technicians can realize significant satisfaction and rewards in commercial laboratories or may choose to be self-employed, opening their own dental laboratories for greater independence.