Dental Technician Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a dental technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a dental technician is the right choice for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Dental Technician Career

Dental technicians, also called dental lab technicians, create bridges, crowns and dentures in a dental laboratory. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a dental technician is the right choice for you.

Pros of a Dental Technician Career
Opportunity to help people through their work*
Minimum education requirements (high school diploma)*
Clean working environment*
Opportunity to specialize*

Cons of a Dental Technician Career
Low job growth expected (3% between 2012-2022)*
Potential low starting wages*
Most work performed while standing*
Must wear protective equipment while working*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Dental technicians work in manufacturing laboratories, dentists' offices and may even own their own lab. Using either a physical mold or a digital impression with a prescription from a dentist, you would build a wax model of the tooth or prosthetic. This wax mold is then made into a metal piece that is eventually layered in porcelain to match the patient's existing teeth. Depending on the size of the lab in which you work, you may perform all of these steps or specialize in one type of prosthetic. Though much of this work is done by hand and requires good manual dexterity, advances in dental technology may automate some of the steps.

Salary and Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that dental laboratory technicians made a median annual wage of $36,830. The BLS projected only a 3% increase in this field for the 2012-2022 decade. The stagnant growth is likely due to better dental health in the aging generation. However, because people are more interested in cosmetic dentistry, technicians likely will still be in demand.

Education Requirements

Although some dental technicians receive on-the-job training after graduating from high school, there are dental technology training programs available. The American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits associate's degree and certificate programs as well as a few bachelor's degree programs. A common program is Associate of Applied Science in Dental Laboratory Technology, which typically consists of a few general education requirements and dental tech lecture courses supported by lab work.

What Employers Are Looking for

For many dental lab technicians job openings, employers would be willing to train candidates in dental technology, but experience was preferred. Check out the below job postings from real employers in March 2012 to see what employers are looking for.

  • A dental services provider in California was looking to hire a dental technician with at least one year of experience in creating dental prosthetics.
  • A dental lab in Illinois was searching for a dental technician trainee who would work full-time hours while preparing to become a certified dental technician.
  • A dental services group in Connecticut was looking for a dental technician with 3-5 years of experience.

How to Stand out in the Field

Get Certified

Though some states require dental laboratories to employ at least one certified dental technician, you aren't required to be certified to perform the lab work. However, gaining a professional credential can demonstrate your knowledge and ability in dental lab work. The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology offers the Certified Dental Technician (CDT) designation. In order to receive the CDT credential, you must pass a general written exam, a practical exam and a specialty written exam. The specialty exam is in one of five areas: crown and bridge, complete dentures, partial dentures, orthodontics or ceramics.

Keep up with Technology

If you do choose to become certified, you may need to maintain your certification with a certain number of hours in continuing education (CE) coursework each year. Whether or not you are required to take extra classes, you may want to enroll in CE courses that aim to teach you new technologies. Dental labs increasingly use machines to make digital impressions of patients' teeth, rather than the traditional molds. Learning about the developments in computer systems can help you stay a step ahead of the competition or put you in line for a promotion.

Other Careers to Consider

If you'd like more patient interaction than dental technicians typically have, you could consider becoming a dental hygienist. Dental hygienists clean patients' teeth and educate them about good oral hygiene. Hygienists typically attend a 2-year associate's degree training program and are required to be licensed in the state in which they work. The BLS reported in May 2014 that dental hygienists made a median annual wage of $71,520.

If you want to work in an assisting capacity but aren't sure you want to be in dentistry, look into a career as a medical assistant. Medical assistants perform both clinical and administrative duties in support of doctors and other medical staff. To become a medical assistant, you typically need to attend a training program that last 1-2 years. The BLS reported in 2014 that medical assistants made a median annual wage of $29,960.

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