Dental Laboratory Technicians
Approximately 36,500 dental laboratory technicians are employed in the United States. The majority of technicians work in commercial dental laboratories. In 2017, there were 6,584 multi-employee dental laboratories throughout the United States, according to the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Some of these laboratories are small, with only one or two technicians who perform a broad range of duties. Large commercial laboratories that serve dentists from a wider area or accept work through the mail may employ from two to 100 technicians; in such laboratories, technicians are more likely to specialize in one area. Some opportunities are available for technicians in private dental offices, dental schools, hospitals, and companies that manufacture dental prosthetic materials. Experienced technicians may find teaching positions in dental laboratory technology education programs.
The military provides dental care to members of the armed forces and their dependents. The branches of the armed forces train laboratory technicians and have their own laboratories that employ technicians who are serving in the military.
Experienced technicians may choose to establish their own laboratories. Thus, some laboratory technicians are self-employed.
Newly graduated dental laboratory technicians seeking employment can apply directly to laboratories and dentists' offices as well as to private and state employment agencies. The best way to locate vacancies is through school career services offices.
Local chapters of professional associations are a good way to make contacts and keep up with new developments and employment openings. Sometimes more experienced dental technicians can get leads by inquiring at dental supply houses. Their sales workers are in constant contact with dentists and laboratories in the area and often know something about staffing needs.
In general, entry-level jobs are likely to include training and routine tasks that allow the technician to become familiar with the laboratory's operations. In a very large commercial laboratory, for instance, newcomers may be assigned to various departments. At the plaster bench they may make and trim models; some technicians may do routine minor repairs of dentures and other appliances; others may polish dentures. As their skills develop, beginning dental laboratory technicians gradually take on more complicated tasks.
The armed forces also provide dental laboratory technology training to enlistees who will work in the military's dental laboratories.
Technicians can expect to advance as they become an expert in a specialized type of work. Depending on skill, experience, and education, some technicians become supervisors or managers in commercial laboratories. Such promotions often depend on the employee having an associate's degree, so many technicians who began their careers with on-the-job training eventually return for formal education.
Technicians interested in advancing can find out about new methods and update their skills in many ways. Professional organizations provide a variety of learning opportunities. Materials manufacturers also offer courses, often free of charge, in the use of their products; outstanding technicians may be hired as instructors in these courses.
Some dental laboratory technicians, seeking variety and new outlets for their creativity, develop sideline activities that require similar skills and materials. Fine jewelry making, for example, is a natural career development for some technicians. Some technicians become teachers in training programs; others become sales representatives for dental products manufacturers.
Many technicians aspire to own and operate an independent laboratory. This requires a broad understanding of dental laboratory work, a well-developed business sense, and a considerable investment. Nonetheless, most of today's commercial laboratory owners have worked as laboratory technicians themselves.
Tips for Entry
Develop your manual dexterity by building models, making jewelry, or creating artistic products out of ceramic materials.
When you visit your dental office for a checkup, talk to the dentist or dental hygienist about opportunities to enter the laboratory technician field.
Attend a community college that offers a program to train dental laboratory technicians.