California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Dental Laboratory Technicians in California

May also be called: Crown and Bridge Dental Lab Technicians; Dental Ceramists; Dental Technicians; Denture Technicians; Metal Finishers; Model and Dye Persons; Model Technicians; and Orthodontic Technicians

What Would I Do?

Dental Laboratory Technicians fill dentists’ prescriptions to design, construct, rework, repair, and adjust dental appliances such as bridges, crowns, dentures, and other dental prosthetics. First, dentists send a prescription or work authorization for each item to be manufactured, along with an impression or mold of the patient's mouth or teeth. With new technology, technicians may receive a digital impression rather than a physical mold. Dental Technicians then create a model of the patient's mouth by pouring plaster into the impression and letting it set. Next, they put the model on an apparatus that simulates the bite and movement of the patient's jaw, which serves as the basis of the prosthetic device.

Examining the model, Dental Technicians make observations about the size and shape of the adjacent teeth and gaps within the gum line. Combined with the dentist's specifications, Technicians build and shape a wax tooth model using small hand instruments called wax spatulas and wax carvers. After the wax tooth is formed, Dental Technicians pour the cast and form the metal framework. Using small handheld tools, they prepare the surface to allow the metal and porcelain to bond and then apply porcelain in layers to mimic the precise shape and color of a tooth. Technicians place the tooth in a furnace to bake the porcelain onto the metal framework and adjust the shape and color with subsequent grinding and addition of porcelain to achieve a sealed finish. The final product is a close replica of the lost tooth or teeth.

In some laboratories, Dental Lab Technicians have full responsibility for all aspects of the work, while Technicians in other labs handle only a few steps. They can specialize in one of five areas—orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, or ceramics. Job titles often reflect specialization in these areas.

Crown and Bridge Technicians plan, fabricate, and repair crowns, inlays and metal frames for dental bridges. Denture Technicians design and construct full or partial dentures. Technicians specializing in making porcelain and acrylic restorations are called Ceramists. Those specializing in metal do the design and fabrication of framework and clasps, and they rework and repair metalwork. Orthodontic Technicians design, construct, and rework orthodontic appliances to straighten teeth. They shape, grind, polish, carve, and assemble metal and plastic appliances, such as retainers, tooth bands, and positioners.

Tools and Technology

Dental Laboratory Technicians use a variety of tools in the course of their work. These include amalgam instruments, dental articulators, burrs, high speed dental drills, finishing or polishing discs, bench grinders, burners or torches, casting machines, furnaces, lathes, and vacuum units. Dental Technicians also use accounting, calendar and scheduling, data base, e-mail, graphics or photo imaging, and inventory management software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Read prescriptions or specifications, and examine models and impressions, to determine the design of dental products to be constructed.Reading Comprehension
Fabricate, alter, and repair dental devices such as dentures, crowns, bridges, inlays, and appliances for straightening teeth.Medicine and Dentistry
Remove excess metal or porcelain, and polish surfaces of prostheses or frameworks, using polishing machines.Equipment Selection
Melt metals or mix plaster, porcelain, or acrylic pastes, and pour materials into molds or over frameworks to form dental prostheses or apparatus.Arm-Hand Steadiness
Test appliances for conformance to specifications and accuracy of occlusion, using articulators and micrometers.Quality Control Analysis
Apply porcelain paste or wax over prosthesis frameworks or setups, using brushes and spatulas.Finger Dexterity
Place tooth models on apparatus that mimics bite and movement of patient's jaw to evaluate functionality of model.Operation Monitoring
Create a model of patient's mouth by pouring plaster into a dental impression and allowing plaster to set.Manual Dexterity
Train and supervise other dental technicians or dental laboratory bench workers.Instructing
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Dental Laboratory Technicians usually work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated laboratories. They generally do not work directly with patients. Most salaried Laboratory Technicians work 40 hours a week, but a few work part-time. Sometimes Technicians wear goggles, gloves, and masks. Technicians do most of their work sitting, but some may spend a good deal of time standing.

Most Dental Lab Technicians are not unionized; however, some employed by governmental organizations may belong to a union.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Dental Lab Technician may appeal to individuals who enjoy work that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. This occupation involves working with forms, designs, and patterns. A high degree of manual dexterity, good vision, and the ability to recognize very fine color shadings and variations in shape are necessary. Dental Technicians must be extremely detail-oriented, accurate, and precise. This work also requires an extensive amount of thinking and patience. They often work under the pressure of deadlines. Individuals who like to work on their own and make decisions with very little supervision should enjoy this occupation.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Salary levels vary depending on the size of the firm and location. Beginning workers often start at minimum wage and can advance over time. Supervisors and managers can earn substantially more.

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Dental Lab Technicians in California is $37,114 annually, or $17.84 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$28,612$37,114$49,108
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefit packages vary by company. Dental Lab Technicians generally receive medical and dental insurance, vacation, holidays, sick leave, profit sharing, and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Demand for Dental Laboratory Technicians should remain stable. Since there is relatively limited public awareness about this occupation and starting wages are low, few people seek these jobs. Those with formal training in a dental laboratory technology program will have the best job prospects. The majority of job openings will arise from the need to replace Technicians who retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force.

During the last few years, there has been an increased demand from a growing older population that is interested in cosmetic prostheses. As a result, many dental laboratories are filling orders for composite fillings that are the same shade of white as natural teeth to replace older, less attractive fillings. The aging population will also require more dental products fabricated by Dental Technicians, such as bridges and crowns, since more people are retaining their original teeth. The job growth for Dental Lab Technicians may be limited by productivity gains stemming from continual technological advancements in laboratories.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Dental Lab Technicians is expected to grow slower than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Dental Lab Technicians are expected to increase by 8.9 percent, or 400 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Dental Lab Technicians
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
4,5004,9004008.91,500
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 40 new job openings per year is expected for Dental Lab Technicians, plus an additional 150 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 190 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Dental Lab Technicians
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
40150190
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Although no formal education or training is required to become a Dental Laboratory Technician, having a high school diploma is typically the standard requirement for obtaining a job. Most Dental Technicians learn their craft through on-the-job training. They usually begin as assistants and gradually learn new skills as they gain experience. For example, Dental Technicians begin by pouring plaster into an impression, and progress to more complex procedures, such as making porcelain crowns and bridges.

Training in dental laboratory technology is available through universities, community colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Dental laboratory technology programs, accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in conjunction with the American Dental Association, normally take two years to complete, although a few programs can take up to four years to complete.

Experience

Prior experience is not required, although many employers prefer to hire Dental Technicians with one to two years of dental laboratory experience.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in becoming Dental Technicians should take courses in English, mathematics, science, metal and wood shop, art, and drafting. With the widespread use of automated laboratory equipment, computer skills are important, therefore, computer courses are also recommended. Courses in management and business may help those who wish to operate their own laboratories in the future.

Some Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) may offer introductory courses in dental careers. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Certification

Certification may increase chances of advancement. Dental Laboratory Technicians may obtain the Certified Dental Technician (CDT) designation from the National Board for Certification (NBC) in Dental Laboratory Technology, an independent board established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Certification can be obtained in five specialty areas: crowns and bridges, ceramics, partial dentures, complete dentures, and orthodontic appliances. To qualify for the CDT credential, technicians must meet educational requirements and pass two written exams and one practical exam. The educational requirement may be obtained through graduation from a dental technology program or at least five years of experience as a Dental Laboratory Technician. The CDTs must complete 12 hours of continuing education each year to maintain their certification. Dental Technicians who only perform certain tasks in a laboratory can take a written and practical exam in modules of dental technology. These result in a Certificate of Competency in a specific skill area and do not require continuing education.

Students who graduate from a NBC-recognized educational institution may choose to take a written examination and become Recognized Graduates (RGs). If the exam is taken within one year of graduation, it allows RGs to waive the written comprehensive exam requirement as long as they earn their CDT within four years of graduation and keep their RG status current. Having the RG designation may significantly reduce the education and experience requirement for CDT testing depending on the educational institution. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Dental Lab, Dental Laboratory Technology, and Dental Laboratory Technician.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Dental Lab Technicians are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Medical Equipment and Supplies Mfg 87.5%
Employment Services 2.1%
Federal Government 1.4%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Dental Lab Technicians.

  • Dental Laboratory
  • Dental Labs

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

In large dental laboratories, Dental Technicians may become supervisors or managers. Experienced Technicians may teach or take jobs with dental suppliers in such areas as product development, marketing, and sales. Opening one's own laboratory is another, and more common, way to advance and earn more.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Dental Lab Technicians with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Dental AssistantsGuide
Jewelers and Precious Stone and Metal WorkersProfile
Medical Equipment RepairersGuide
Shoe and Leather Workers and RepairersProfile
Timing Device Assemblers, Adjusters, and CalibratorsProfile

Other Sources

  • American Dental Association
         www.ada.org
  • National Association of Dental Laboratories
         www.nadl.org
  • National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology
         www.nbccert.org

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification51-9081
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Dental Laboratory Technicians51-9081.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RIC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Dental Laboratory Technology/Technician 510603
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Dental Laboratory Technician124030