What Does a Dental Laboratory Technician Do?
People with good teeth don’t think twice about flashing a bright smile. It’s easy to convey approval and love with a grin. It’s hard to imagine having to stop and think about this instinctive, happy expression.
For people with gum disease or dental problems, even a small smile can be a source of embarrassment and pain. Dental laboratory technicians (DLTs) create dental prostheses that bring smiles back. Can you think of a better job?
But what does the career of a dental laboratory technician actually look like?
What does a DLT do?
DLTs work in a laboratory environment, combining art and science to create prosthetics for people’s mouths. The work is very tactile, involving both artistry and technology, and it falls into two categories: restorative dentistry and orthodontics.
Restorative dentistry, also called prosthodontics, happens when a patient’s teeth are damaged due to tooth decay, disease such as periodontitis, or an accident. In this case, the tooth must be replaced so the patient can function normally. The DLT’s job is to make the replacement tooth or prosthetic.
While some of us are born with straight teeth, others are not so lucky. Orthodontics step in — often in the form of braces and retainers — when the patient’s teeth need to be moved for aesthetic reasons or to prevent damage and pain.
Dental laboratory technicians work in both worlds.
Related resource: Why Creative People Make Great Dental Lab Technicians
So what training is required to get started as a DLT?
Most DLTs study and graduate from an accredited, two-year dental laboratory technician program; however, having a certificate of education is not required, and not all employers ask for it. You’ll need a high school diploma to apply to a DLT program through a community college, vocational or technical school, or university or dental school.
Ameritech’s program is the only accredited Dental Laboratory Technician program in Utah, and one of only about 24 in the United States.
The education for a dental laboratory tech includes training for skills like:
- Crafting crowns and bridges
- Working in wax, ceramics, and metals like gold
- Substructure, design, and fabrication
- Technologies like CAD scanning and design
Dental lab techs make a good salary — especially considering the relatively small amount of time they spend in school.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, DLTs make between $37,520 and $40,520 per year on average. However, Ameritech alumni and most graduates of other skills programs often make much more. Some dental lab technicians make six figures.
Digital dentistry and technology in the lab
If you’re exploring this career, you should probably enjoy working with technology. While much of the work involves manual sculpting, polishing, and painting, there’s an increasingly digital, technology-heavy aspect.
X-rays are conducted in a dental office, but dental lab technicians work with the resulting images in the lab as well.
Intraoral scanning uses X-rays, where the X-ray film is placed inside the mouth. This scan can produce different views of the inside of the mouth, and includes bitewing X-rays, periapical X-rays, and occlusal X-rays.
Extraoral scanning involves X-rays performed outside the mouth, as you might have guessed!
Most modern dental labs use CAD (computer-aided design), and many labs hire for this position specifically. Using CAD, dental lab techs can create virtual 3-D models.
3-D printing and milling
Not every dental lab has a 3-D printer, but it’s a fast, accurate way of producing a dental implant! A 3-D printer can print with many different materials, including a range of proprietary man-made materials.
3-D milling works in the opposite way: Rather than adding material to reproduce a dental implant, a 3-D milling machine carves or mills a new implant from porcelain or other material.
Related resource: Digital Dentistry Is Growing Stronger
Dental Lab Technician jobs
All this education and technology is great, but at the end of the day, you want a job! Good news: The job market for the dental lab tech profession is hot, with 10 percent anticipated job growth.
Even smaller cities have dental labs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great map which displays state-by-state DLT employment rates.
Related resource: How to Land a Job as a Dental Laboratory Technician
So whether you’re the creative type, the technical type, or somewhere in between, becoming a DLT just might give you the balance, stability, and career you’re looking for.
To learn more or to get started in this exciting profession, visit Ameritech’s Dental Laboratory Technician program page.