Innovators Guide

Dental Laboratory Technician Training

Most dental laboratory technicians learn their craft on the job. Many employers prefer to hire those with formal training or at least a high school diploma.

Education and training. Although there are no formal education or training requirements to become a dental laboratory technician, having a high school diploma is typically the standard requirement for obtaining a job. High school students interested in becoming dental laboratory technicians should take courses in mathematics and science. Courses in metal and wood shop, art, drafting, and computers are recommended. Courses in management and business may help those wishing to operate their own laboratories.

Most dental laboratory technicians are hired with a high school diploma and learn their tasks through on-the-job training. They usually begin as helpers and gradually learn new skills as they gain experience. For example, dental laboratory 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 and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. In 2008, 20 programs in dental laboratory technology were accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in conjunction with the American Dental Association. Accredited programs normally take 2 years to complete, although a few programs can take up to 4 years to complete.

Licensure and certification. Three States -Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas - require a dental laboratory to employ at least one Certified Dental Technician in order to operate. This certification is administered by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC) and the requirements are discussed under Certification and Advancement. In Florida, laboratories must register with the State and at least one dental technician in each dental laboratory must complete 18 hours of continuing education every two years.

Other qualifications. A high degree of manual dexterity, good vision, and the ability to recognize very fine color shadings and variations in shape are necessary for dental laboratory technicians. An artistic aptitude for detailed work also is important. Computer skills are valuable for technicians using automated systems.

Dental laboratory technicians may obtain the Certified Dental Technician designation from the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC), an independent board established by the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Certification, which is voluntary except in three States, 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 5 years of experience as a dental laboratory technician. CDT's must complete twelve 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.

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.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition

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