What is a Dental Technician?
This professional is the person who provides back-office support to the dentist or work in a dental laboratory. They usually work in an independent way. Also, dental technicians rarely interact with the patient. They may also be referred to as dental lab technicians.
Job Description of a Dental Technician
When operating as a dental technician you will be the one that creates the dental prosthesis by making cast impressions of the patient’s teeth or mouth if you work in a dentist office. If you are working in a dental laboratory, you will be sent a model of the patient’s mouth along with a prescription stating what type of crown, bridge, or denture will be needed for them. A dental technician can also make orthodontic appliances like braces, retainers, and other removable or fixed appliances.
It will be your job to make what the dentist has sent in a prescription for. When operating as a dental technician you will be expected to work with a wide range of material that includes alloys, polymer glass, plastics, porcelain, and waxes. Some of the equipment they will use includes the articulator, grinding equipment, porcelain furnaces, and wax carvers. A dental technician may work with all types of material along with performing all stages of tooth replacement. They may also specialize in creating certain orthodontic items like orthodontic appliances, full mouth or partial dentures, inlays, and ceramics. In addition to making these different orthodontics, a dental technician can also repair different dental appliances. In addition to creating the dental apparatuses, you will also size and fit them.
Working as a dental technician you will be working with hot wax, using welding equipment along with other potentially dangerous materials so you must make sure that you are following safety measures like wearing protective goggles and masks. Many times when you accept an entry-level position as a dental technician in a laboratory or dental office you will be offered training to learn about working safely and other relevant concepts in great detail.
To be a good dental technician in a dentist office or laboratory you should have:
- An eye for detail. It’s very important that dental technicians are detail oriented in their work.
- The ability to read the prescription for what orthodontic appliance the dentist needs
- A steady hand, because it’s a work of precision. Lack of precision renders such work impossible.
- Good manual dexterity because you will be working with small tools.
- Be able to read x-rays as you will use these to help you build prostheses for patients
- Having patience as each of these jobs will take time to make sure it is done specifically as the dentist ordered. It is sometimes challenging, so without patience you wouldn’t be happy as a dental technician.
- The ability to be accurate in what they are making because if it is not then it will be sent back to be reworked, or it will be scraped and another one will need to be made, which either one will cost the laboratory money.
Most of the time a dental technician will be working in a laboratory that is miles from the actual dentist office, so all they have to rely on to make the dental orthodontics is the prescription from the dentist, the impression or mold, and x-rays.
How to Become a Dental Technician?
Many working in this field have not enrolled in any programs to become a dental technician but instead only have a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED) along with on-the-job training. There are no specific educational qualifications for working as a dental technician according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) but several people decide to earn a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree. If you want to become a certified dental technician, you will need to pass an examination, which will usually require you to have some education, degree of experience, or both. Many of the degree and certificate programs are accredited by the American Dental Associations Commission on Dental Accreditation. To enroll in some of the training programs you may have to complete hand-eye coordination and hand dexterity tests to get into the programs. You may also have to demonstrate that you can carve wax molds also.
You can get your certificate through community and technical colleges. In these programs, you will be educated on the different forms of prosthetic dental apparatuses that you will make. You will also learn about the prime material that is used to manufacture dentures, which is ceramics. If you want more than a certificate, you could earn a 2-year associate degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree. If you are going for a bachelor’s degree, you will need to get your associate degree first.
When you enroll in an associate’s degree program, you will discuss the basic concepts of making prosthetic dental apparatuses along with the material used to make them plus learning about chemistry, patient communication, oral anatomy and physiology, occlusion, orthodontic appliances, and dental ethics. The associate degree that you can enroll in is called the Associate of Applied Science in Dental Technology (A.A.S.). It is a 2-year undergraduate degree program. In this program, in addition to the above courses, you will also cover restorative and orthodontic techniques. You will also have clinical training along with supervised hands-on work in the laboratory. When getting your degree, you may decide that you want to specialize in a particular area of the dental technology field such as working only with ceramics, crowns, or prosthetics.
Most dental technicians opt to stop at an associate’s degree but if you go on to get your bachelor’s degree you may also have to complete a laboratory internship before you graduate. With a bachelor’s degree, you will get an in-depth education on topics such as quality control, laboratory safety, dental technology, and dental research.
There are 3 states that mandate in a dental laboratory that one of the dental technicians be certified according to the BLS. Those 3 states include Texas, Kentucky, and South Carolina. In the rest of the states, the requirements for certification is at the discretion of the individual employers. If you are certified, it could lead to salary or career advancements. If you decide to earn your certificate and have the designation of being a Certified Dental Technician (CDT), you will have to pass 1 applied examination and 2 written examinations. One of the written examinations you need to take covers general knowledge and the second written and applied examination will test you in one of the 5 areas of specialization. Before you begin the examination process, you have to declare a specialization. The 5 specialized areas you can choose from include:
- Complete dentures
- Partial dentures
- Crown and bridge
You can obtain certification through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC). In order to maintain your certification, you have to fulfill yearly 12 continuing education credit hours. You can find these continuing educations by contacting the Academy of General Dentistry and American Dental Association as both offers a variety of these classes. Some of these continuing education classes may address any recent advancements in the dental field like newly developed techniques and tools.
Work Environment and Schedule
When working as a dental technician you may work in a dentist office or even work in a laboratory fabricating dental prosthetics like crowns, bridges, and dentures. Some even find employment in government agencies. When working in a dentist office they may help to create orthodontic appliances, and veneers along with crowns and bridges. Some dental technicians choose an entry-level position working in manufacturing companies. If you have an advanced experience, you could find a job working as an instructor in a dental laboratory education program or even be self-employed and own your own office where you make dental prosthetics for a select group of dentists.
When working as a dental technician the jobs, you will normally do each day will be to make crowns, bridges, orthodontic appliances, and dentures, which could be a partial or full set. You may have all three to do that day or maybe just one or two of them. Your workload could be heavy at times or it could be light. It all depends on how many dental technicians are working in the laboratory and how many dentists send them work to be done. The same goes for working in a dentist office although in many dentist offices there is only one dental technician. If it is a group practice, it could be 2 dental technicians. Most dental technicians will work a regular 40-hour week Monday thru Friday, but may occasionally work overtime if they have a heavy load, or they have an emergency rush job that needs to be done.
Here is an illustration of how a day could go as a dental technician. When you arrive for work at the dental laboratory, you will look to see what orders have come in that day from the dentist offices and what is left over from the day before. Checking to see what orders are left over can also apply to a dental office. When the dental technician gets a prescription for a crown, bridge, or dentures, they will either get an impression of the teeth or mouth or a 3-dimensional putty mold. Once the dental technician receives the dental impression or mold, then they will make a plaster cast of the mouth of that particular patient. The steps to making the requested crown, bridge or denture is as follows:
- Once they have the plaster cast, it will be attached to a special machine called an articulator, which will simulate the opening and closing of the patients jaw. This will allow the dental technician to find the proper bite alignment.
- Once it has been aligned you will design and create the prosthetic so that it fits perfectly into the patient’s mouth.
- Before the prosthetic is completed, you will ensure that the prosthetic matches the exact shape and color of the patient’s original teeth or tooth
To bond all the material together high heat will be applied to the prosthetic. If the orthodontics are even a little off, they may not fit the patient and will either have to be redone or have adjustments done.
There are also specialize dental technician fields that include their title and specialty:
- Prosthodontic—prosthetic devices like dentures
- Conservation—bridges and crowns and may also create cold inlays along with other types of fillings
- Orthodontic—different types of braces, retainers, and headgear to correct the more serious bite issues
- Maxillofacial—pieces to correct defects or injuries to the jaw or mouth, usually due to traumatic injury. They work mostly in hospitals.
Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Technician
If a career in dentistry interests you, but you do not want to spend all day with your hand in a patient’s mouth cleaning teeth, pulling teeth, etc. then becoming a dental technician might be a good career choice for you. If you are working as a dental technician in a dentist’s office, you may have to put your hand in a patient’s mouth to make a dental impression for a crown, bridge, dentures, or orthodontic appliance. As with any career choice, there are always going to be a reason or reasons not to choose that career. No career is perfect and without cons. Sometimes there are more good things about your possible career choice than bad things but it can always be flipped and have more negative things than positive things. Let us look at some of the positive (pros) and negative (cons) things about a career as a dental technician.
- You can still work in the field of dentistry, but you do not have to put your hands into a patient’s mouth to work with their teeth such as filling a tooth, cleaning, pulling a tooth, etc. You will have to place your hand in their mouth though to make an impression if you work in a dentist office but not if you work in a dental laboratory.
- If you are not a people person and prefer to work by yourself, this may be a good career joint as most work independently. Professionally, you can advance a lot further and enhance your knowledge, as you will have enough time on your own.
- Once you have several years of experience you could become self-employed and open your own office. That provides even more independence, as an expert, but also professionally. You know, it’s almost like being self-employed instead of working for other people and then every income reaches your own pockets. This is obviously something that many dental technicians are looking for.
- In most cases, it is a regular Monday thru Friday 40-hour week working a set schedule of 8 hours a day. When working in a dentist office you may have to work one late evening if the dentist offers late hours. This offers pretty much stability, because your schedule doesn’t have too many unexpected parts. As a 40-hour week work, establishing a family and having many friends while being a dental technician is possible.
- Between 2012 and 2022 the expected growth rate is expected to be slower than average at only 3 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, we can’t tell for sure whether in the next decades there will be a need for more dental technicians or not. It all depends on the demand we observe nationwide, and how the economy will change in those years.
- The average annual salary for an entry level position is under $40,000. If you were looking for a better financial status, then being a dental technician might not fit you the most.
- Most times you will be on your feet leaning over a counter making the orthodontic appliances. This not only means that you need an excellent physical shape, but it also means that you need to take extra care when certain types of pain occur. Some potential problems can be treated by dedicated exercises, while others will only go away with medication or nutritional supplements. You also need to make sure you have enough vitamin intake on a constant basis.
- Working with potentially dangerous materials. The exposure might be deemed harmless by some people, but it’s not to be taken lightly. Whenever we speak of dangerous materials, it’s not necessarily a “poison” that will take effect instantly. Some substances work slowly, inflicting damages in 5-15 years only.
Dental Technician Salary
In 2015, the average annual dental technician salary was only $36,440, which is on the low side, for an entry-level position. Considering the tedious, exact work that is expected, it is expected that the annual wage is a little higher. Working in the equipment manufacturing and supplying industry the average annual salary was only $37,510. To even begin making a decent average annual salary you will need to have 4 or more years of experience. For example, with over 4 years of experience a dental technician can earn an average yearly salary of $55,000 to $80,000.
One of the highest paying states is the District of Columbia, which pays a mean annual salary of $62,000 followed by Alaska, who has a mean annual wage of $54,000. Shaping the top 3 is Montana with a mean annual salary of $52,000.
In addition to the salary one must figure in the benefits that can go along with your employment like paid vacation and sick days, paid holidays, life and health insurance, maybe even covering the family, maternity leave that could even include the father. Additionally there is short and long term disability, profit sharing, yearly or quarterly bonuses, uniform reimbursement, reimbursement for continuing education classes to keep your certification, overtime pay, 401k, retirement, and more.
Salary of a Dental Technician in 2016
Unfortunately, in 2016 the average yearly salary was $34,000, which is almost $2,000 less than what the entry-level position average yearly salary in 2015. In that year, it was $36,440 but again, it was only the average so it could be much higher in different locations of the United States. Keep in mind that the average yearly salary will vary greatly because of the dental technicians years of experience, the company or industry they work for, where their job is located, and the benefits that they receive.
Dental Technician Salary in Canada, Australia and UK
In Australia, the average yearly salary is AU$31,259 to AU$70,830 with a possible yearly bonus of AU$5,000. In Canada, the average yearly salary is CAD$40,000 to CAD$50,000. The lowest paid dental technician earns an entry-level hourly wage of CAD$9.50 while the highest paying hourly wage is CAD$31.00. In the UK, the average yearly salary is £23,409 but the median yearly salary is only £21,000. It is also based on their age with ones in their 20s earning an average yearly salary of £17,557. When you are in your 30s, you can earn an average yearly salary of £22,941, and when you are in your 40s and 50s you can earn an average yearly salary of £27,155.
Conclusion on Dental Technician Salary
On average the top 10 percent of all dental technicians earn approximately $58,390 per year while the lowest 10% approximately earns less than $27,370 per year. Although there is not a very high projected growth rate, it is still a very lucrative career choice that offers you a rewarding salary and a stable job. People will always need high-quality dental work, so this is one of the main reasons why a dental technician can expect a stable, secure job now and in the future. Another reason that being a dental technician offers a steady job is that as the population in the United States ages the need for preventative dental care increases so the older people will be able to keep their own teeth longer. If they should lose their teeth, they will need someone to make them dentures, which is where a dental technician comes into the picture.
You also have to figure in the benefits, which could add several thousands of dollars to the average annual salary. For example, if you are making $15.00 an hour and you take a week’s vacation you are earning approximately $600.00 for that week you are at home.