How to Become a Dental Technician in 5 Steps

A dental technician manufactures prosthetic devices such as crowns, veneers and dentures. Learn about the required education and training for this career, and get predictions about the job market. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Dental Technician?

A dental technician, also known as a dental laboratory technician, is a technical specialist who fabricates prosthetic devices such as crowns, veneers and dentures. Every device is a customized fit created using molds taken directly from patients. Your duties as a technician include reading specifications and examining molds and models; filling models with molten metal or porcelain; polishing finished devices; testing devices to determine if they meet specs; and repairing broken devices. If you work in a dental office, you may also be required to create plaster molds.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or G.E.D. is the minimum level of education you need to become a dental technician. Postsecondary programs for technician training require a diploma for admission. High school-level courses in the sciences, computers, math and shop impart general background knowledge you can adapt to this discipline.

Step 2: Get a Certificate or Degree

Although most technicians train on the job, you can pursue formal training through a certificate or associate's degree program at a number of community and technical colleges. Programs at either level train you in dental terminology, dental anatomy, appliance fabrication techniques and infection control procedures. Associate's degree programs may have a broader curriculum than certificate programs, providing courses in dental history, lab management or advanced dental prosthetics. Certificates may be earned in 1-2 years and associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.

Step 3: Complete an Internship

Some dental technician programs include an internship or clinical practicum at a local dental lab. These provide you with an opportunity to observe lab procedures and acquire direct work experience building devices. Internships may also provide you with contacts you can draw on after you complete your formal education and sometimes lead to employment.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

A majority of your employment opportunities will be with medical equipment manufacturers and suppliers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Dentist offices provide the next largest source of jobs. A small number of positions are available with federal agencies, equipment wholesalers and postsecondary schools. Approximately 46,000 dental technicians were employed in 2008, which was projected to grow to about 52,400 by 2018. However, as of May 2010, employment had fallen to around 38,360. The median annual salary in 2010 was $35,140.

Step 5: Earn Certification

Although it's voluntary in most states, having certification demonstrates your competence in the field and may improve your prospects for advancement. The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology offers credentials in crowns and bridges, ceramics, orthodontics, complete dentures and partial dentures (www.nbccert.org). To obtain certification in a specialty you need to pass a comprehensive written exam consisting of multiple-choice questions, a specialty written exam and a specialty practical exam. You may certify in more than one specialty.

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