Dental Laboratory Technician
Dental laboratory technicians manufacture dental prosthetics ordered by prescriptions forwarded by dentists. The dentist provides a description of the desired dental replacement product along with an impression or mold of the patient's mouth. The dental lab technician then creates a model of the patient's mouth by pouring plaster into the mold and letting it set.
Using the mold as a guide, the dental technician makes a wax model of the crown or denture requested, which serves as a mold for the metal framework of the device. The technician then applies layers of porcelain and uses small tools to shape the crown or denture.
Many dental laboratory technicians learn the trade on the job, serving what amounts to a 3-4 year period of apprenticeship by beginning with simple tasks and working up to the more complex ones. There are some vocational schools and community colleges that offer formal training in dental technology. An associate's degree takes two years to complete and will require some lab experience thereafter. There is a certification organization, but becoming certified is voluntary in all but three states.
There were about 53,000 dental laboratory technicians working in 2006, according to Department of Labor statistics. Most were employed in independent lab facilities, although some larger dentists' offices operate their own labs.
Job growth in this field will be slow, projected to be just 4% in the decade 2006 - 2016. Healthier teeth have led to fewer dentures and more crowns for prosthetic dental work. However there are not a lot of job applicants in this field.
10th Percentile $20,740
Median Salary $34,170
90th Percentile $58,140
Source: U.S. Department of Labor