Dental Laboratory Technicians fall into the Investigative Theme Code Category of the Strong Interest Inventory® Test. The Strong Interest Inventory® Assessment comprehensively assesses individual’s interests, and uses the results to match individuals to a career which can be both a long-term good fit and fulfilling. The Strong Interest Inventory® Assessment was originally released in 1927, and has been optimized over the better part of a century. The Investigative Theme is based around researching, analyzing, and inquiring. Careers in this category often involve critical thinking and abstract tasks which can be done with a fair degree of independence.
Dental Laboratory Technicians are responsible for constructing and repairing dental appliances. They read prescriptions from dentists and examine any molds or impressions that are sent to decide how the dental appliances should be constructed. They form the materials into the necessary shape. This may include melting metals, or mixing plaster, acrylic, or porcelain pastes, and then applying these materials to frameworks or pouring them into molds. They then test the appliances or models by placing them on an apparatus that imitates the patient’s jaw. This process allows the Dental Lab Technicians to confirm that the appliance is functional and is molded to a particular patient’s anatomy. Once they are certain that the appliance is viable, they remove excess material and polish the surfaces so that they have smooth edges that will not damage soft tissue. In some cases, it may be necessary to apply porcelain paste or wax over sharp edges to smooth them out. In addition, Dental Lab Technicians are often responsible for training or supervising more junior technicians or laboratory bench workers, as well as working closely with dentists and other dental professionals.
Dental Lab Technicians use many different kinds of tools to successfully complete their tasks. For instance, they may use dental burrs, cutting and polishing disks, knives, impression trays, and hand pieces in order to shape dental appliances precisely. They may also use dental ovens or porcelain furnaces, as well as soldering machines, dental microblasters, gold platers and other apparatuses that apply heat precisely in order to shape and customize appliances. In case they take impressions or molds of patients’ mouths, they may use amalgam dispensers, instruments, or carriers. Dental Lab Technicians also use a range of general laboratory equipment, such as gas burners, beakers, mobile mixers, mortars and pestles, steam cleaners, culture plates and tissue collectors, and ultra-pure water systems. In addition to hardware, computer skills are also vital to this career. For instance, accounting software (e.g., Intuit QuickBooks) is necessary to maintain accurate records of laboratory expenses, and scheduling, inventory management, and email software to streamline other logistical considerations in the lab. More technical software includes computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software for dental product design and production. Also essential is a familiarity with database user interface and query software (e.g., Easy Solutions Easy Lab; Iventrix Labtrac; Laboratory Systems Group Lab Manager, etc.). Microsoft Office Suite (including PowerPoint, Word, and Excel).
Most Dental Lab Technicians (over 80%) hold a high school diploma (42%), a post-secondary certificate (22%) or an Associate’s degree (17%). They benefit from an understanding of design, production, and processing, as well as a basic foundation in medicine, dentistry, and chemistry. Furthermore, because so much of their work requires manual precision, dental lab technicians also benefit from strong finger and manual dexterity, coordination, and hand-arm steadiness. They need to be able to precisely control machines, and quickly and accurately compare similar objects or images to detect differences among them.
The employment of Dental Laboratory Technicians nation-wide is expected to increase in every state except Wisconsin and Massachusetts before 2024, with the national projected increase being 10.8% on average. Utah and Nevada are expected to increase their employment over 40% before 2020, and nearly 10 other states have projected increases well over 20%. Dental Lab Technicians’ salaries vary widely around the country, with even the best paid technicians in Wyoming earning only $50,000 annually, while Dental Lab Technicians’ salary in New York is over $90,000. Their salary in Florida, Texas, and California are all very close to the national average, with the lowest-paid technicians’ salary being close to $22,000, and the highest-paid salary nearing $60,000.
Below are some employment trends for Dental Lab Technicians:
- Median Dental Lab Technician Salary: $17.71/hour; $36,830 annually
- Employment: 39,000 employees
- Projected growth (2014-2022): Faster than average (9% to 13%)
- Projected job openings (2014-2022): 13,500
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data and 2014-2022 employment projections Onetonline.org