Dental Laboratory Technicians
Education and Training Requirements
Your first step in becoming a dental laboratory technician is to receive your high school diploma. Useful high school courses include biology, chemistry, shop (wood or metal working), mechanical drawing, art, and ceramics. Any other course or activity that allows you to learn about metallurgy or the chemistry of plastics would be very helpful.
Although there is a growing trend among technicians to get an associate's degree, most technicians today still enter the field by completing three to four years of on-the-job training. These technicians work as trainees under the supervision of experienced technicians in a dental laboratory. Trainees start by doing simple jobs, such as mixing plaster and pouring it into molds. As they gradually gain experience, they are assigned more complex tasks.
Increasing numbers of technicians enroll in a formal training program that leads to an associate's degree in applied science. The American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation (http://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program) has accredited 14 training programs in the United States. A typical two-year curriculum might include courses in denture construction, processing and repairing dentures, tooth construction, waxing and casting inlays, and constructing crowns. In addition, the student may be expected to take courses such as biochemistry, English, business mathematics, and American government. A few bachelor's degree programs in dental technology are also available.
Although newly graduated technicians still need several years of work experience to refine their practical skills, these graduates benefit from a program combining academic courses with laboratory instruction. Exposure to a wide range of skills and materials pays off in the long run for most graduates. Employers often prefer to hire new employees with this type of formal academic training.
Other Education or Training
The National Association of Dental Laboratories offer on-demand continuing education (CE) videos at its Web site. Recent videos includes Advanced Aesthetics and Lab Communication, Simplified Anterior Esthetics, and Client Relations & Laboratory Management. The American Dental Association, state and local organizations, and dental products manufacturers also provide CE opportunities.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Technicians with appropriate training and experience can become certified dental technicians, thus earning the right to place the initials CDT after their names. The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology, which awards the credential, reports that "the attained skill and knowledge of the CDT is highly desirable to laboratories. Having this certification provides the dental technician with the advantage of higher salaries, advancement. and job satisfaction."
To become certified, candidates must complete three examinations within a four-year period: a written comprehensive exam, a written specialty exam (which focuses on one of the following specialties: complete dentures, partial dentures, crowns and bridges, ceramics, orthodontics, and implants), and a hands-on practical exam in the same specialty.
Every year, certified dental technicians must meet specific continuing education requirements in order to maintain certification status. Although certification is not mandatory for employment, many employers regard it as the best evidence of competence.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Dental technicians typically enter the field after obtaining three to four years experience working in laboratories helping more seasoned employees. They must learn to pour plaster and make models of dental fixtures, follow precise designs to create porcelain crowns and bridges, and use materials such as acrylics and metals in building dental appliances. The work also involves operating casting machines, dental buffing wheels, lathes, and molding devices.
Successful dental laboratory technicians possess the precision, patience, and dexterity of a skilled artisan. They must be able to carry out written and sometimes verbal instructions to the letter because each dental fixture has to be constructed according to very specific designs provided by the dentist. Good eyesight and good color discrimination, as well as the ability to do delicate work with one's fingers, are very important. Although it is by no means a requirement, prospective dental laboratory technicians will profit from experience building model airplanes or cars, and other such work that involves mixing and molding various materials.