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Dental Technician


Do you like the idea of building models of teeth? Can you follow detailed directions in order to create a three-dimensional object? Dental technicians manufacture, alter, and repair dental devices such as dentures, crowns, bridges, inlays and appliances for straightening teeth. They fill dentist's and orthodontist's prescriptions and create dental devices.

People often confuse dental technicians with dental hygienists or dental assistants, who clean teeth and work directly with patients. Dental technicians do not actually work with patients. A dentist orders the specific appliance from a technologist.

Following the dentist's orders, technicians make or repair crowns, bridges, dentures and other appliances. Along with the prescription from a dentist, usually comes a mould of a patient's mouth or teeth. The mould is imperative for the technician in order to create the proper fitting component. Since we all have differently shaped and sized teeth, it is imperative that the technician has the proper mould.

Here is a detailed example of what a dental technician would do in making a tooth. Once the technician receives the mould, they create a model of the patients mouth by pouring plaster into the impression and allowing it to set. Next, they set the model on an apparatus that mimics the bite and movement of a persons jaw. The model serves as the basis of the prosthetic device. Technicians then examine the model, noting the size and shape of the adjacent teeth, as well as gaps within the gumline. Based upon these observations and the dentists specifications, technicians build and shape a wax tooth model, using small hand instruments called wax spatulas and wax carvers. They use this wax model to cast the metal framework for the prosthetic device.

After they form the wax tooth, technicians pour the cast to form the metal using small hand-held tools. This prepares the surface to allow the metal and porcelain to bond. Next, they apply porcelain in layers, to arrive at the precise shape and color of a tooth. It is important to match the color, for if the patient has yellow teeth and technician is producing a pearly white cast, then when installed, the patient might look a bit strange.

The next step is placing the tooth in a porcelain furnace to bake onto the metal framework. Once cooked, the technician will adjust the shape and color, with subsequent grinding and the addition of more porcelain to achieve a sealed finish. The final product is nearly an exact replica of the lost tooth or teeth.

Depending on the size and type of laboratory for which a technician works, some perform all stages of the work, whereas in larger labs, each technician performs only a few steps in the creation process. Dental technicians usually specialize in one of five areas: orthodontics, crowns and bridges, dentures, partial dentures, or ceramics.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Dental technicians need a high degree of manual dexterity, with an aptitude for fine mechanical work. They need artistic ability combined with an aptitude for engineering and design work. Technicians must be patient and have the ability to concentrate and pay attention to fine detail. They need strong initiative and the ability to work within deadlines, along with good communication and interpersonal skills. Dental technicians should enjoy analyzing prescriptions and taking a methodical approach to their work, working with tools and equipment at tasks that require precision, and finding solutions to problems.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Fabricate or repair full or partial dentures, and other dental devices such as bridges, inlays, clasps and bands
  • Construct dental appliances that are used to repair, replace or reposition teeth
  • Use small hand tools and rotary instruments, electric lathes, high-speed motorized equipment, drills, waxes, high-heat furnaces, and other specialized laboratory equipment
  • May train and supervise other dental technicians or dental laboratory bench workers in fabricating dentures and other dental devices
  • May perform supervisory and administrative functions for the dental laboratory
  • Most dental technicians work in laboratories and dental offices. They usually work eight-hour day shifts, but some labs have rotating shifts, meaning some might have to work evenings or weekends. They may be required to lift heavy items. Also, technicians must observe safety precautions when working with potentially hazardous materials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Dental technicians mainly work in dental laboratories. Technicians will either own their own laboratory facilities, or work in small specialized laboratories or larger commercial ones. Those who teach at the technical level work for community colleges or hospitals.

  Long Term Career Potential  
For independent laboratory owners, it is a highly competitive field with success depending on the volume of one's business initiative as well as technical skills. Advancement opportunities are limited, although dental technicians may advance to supervisory positions in larger commercial laboratories. Dental technicians may also consider going into jewelry making, as both crafts have very similar processes. Otherwise, technicians could go into dental equipment sales or teach at a technological institute.

  Educational Paths  
There is no process set in stone for becoming a dental technician, however the completion of a college program in dental technology or four or more years of on-the-job training under the supervision of a dental technician is required. After the successful completion of a technical program, student must intern in a laboratory for a minimum of two years prior to taking the examination for registration. Licensing by the regional governing body is available but not mandatory in all areas.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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