There are no postsecondary education requirements to become a dental laboratory technician, but most have at least a high school diploma. Technicians usually learn their skills on the job.
Most dental laboratory technicians learn through on-the-job training. They usually begin as helpers in a laboratory and learn more advanced skills as they gain experience. For example, technicians may begin by pouring plaster into an impression to make a model. As they become more experienced, they may progress to more complex tasks, such as making porcelain crowns and bridges. Because all laboratories are different, the length of training varies.
A high school diploma is the standard requirement for getting a job as a dental laboratory technician. High school students interested in becoming dental laboratory technicians should take courses in science, mathematics, computer programming, and art.
Formal education programs are available for dental laboratory technicians through vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Most programs take 2 years to complete, though there are a few 4-year programs available. All programs have courses in dental anatomy, dental ceramics, dentures, and partial dentures. As laboratories continue to manufacture parts for dental appliances using advanced computer programs, it may be helpful for technicians to take courses in computer skills and programming.
Detail oriented. Dental laboratory technicians must pay attention to details. To create realistic prosthetics for each patient’s mouth, they must notice slight differences in color and shape.
Dexterity. Dental laboratory technicians must work well with their hands because they use precise laboratory instruments.
Technical skills. Dental laboratory technicians must understand how to operate complex machinery. Some procedures are automated, so technicians must know how to operate and change the programs that run the machinery.
The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBCCERT) offers certification as a Certified Dental Technician (CDT). Certification is available in six specialty areas: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, and ceramics.
To qualify for the CDT, technicians must have at least 5 years of on-the-job training or experience in dental technology, or have graduated from an accredited dental laboratory technician program. They must also pass three exams.
The NBCCERT also provides a modularization program that leads to a Certificate of Competency. Dental technicians can also get at Certificate of Competency in each specific skill through a written and practical exam on that skill.
In large laboratories, dental laboratory technicians may work their way up to a supervisory level and may train new technicians. Some may go on to own their own laboratory.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition