Dental Technologists Have a Decay-Proof Future

If you've ever wanted to get into the field of dental technology, this is a great time to do it.

The industry has a hard time attracting new employees. Not a lot of people know about this "behind the scenes" occupation. That means that employers sometimes have trouble filling positions.

"I don't think it's a very well-known field," says Cathy Rose. She owns a dental lab. "People don't even know we exist."

Dental technologists and technicians (also referred to as laboratory bench workers) make replacements for people's natural teeth. They do not work directly with patients. They work mainly in labs. They make substitutes and devices for fixing teeth based on the prescriptions that dentists write.

The terms "technologist" and "technician" are used somewhat interchangeably. That makes it confusing, notes Rose. She explains that the industry is heading toward using the term "technologist" to mean the worker has training, experience and certification. A "technician" works under the direction of a technologist.

John Rosenberg is the director of certification and education of the National Association of Dental Laboratories. He agrees with Rose's definition. He adds that the term "technologist" often refers to the owner of a dental lab, who usually has extensive education and experience in the field.

Many experts are projecting increased opportunities for those working in the dental health field because of an aging population. However, keep in mind that it really is not a huge occupational group.

Technologists in North America can be certified through the National Association of Dental Laboratories. Certification is possible after taking formal education or gaining work experience.

In the U.S., demand for dental technologists will continue to be strong. The National Association of Dental Laboratories points out on its website that schools for dentists are teaching less dental technology than they used to. That will make dentists more dependent on the services and skills of the dental technologist.

One of the negative things about this field, however, is the relatively low wages for those in entry-level positions. "The starting wages are fairly low, and they don't go up too quickly," says Kelly Carr. She is the editor of Lab Management Today.

"Technicians' wages are quite low, considering it's such a skilled job. It's a problem. The industry is having problems attracting people to it," says Carr.

Rose notes that as the owner of her laboratory, she was at one point paying an employee more than she was even paying herself because of that employee's technical skill as a crown and bridge specialist.

"There are people doing really well financially in this field," says Carr. "But that's because they are good businesspeople. The owners of the labs do better."

Some of the best opportunities in the field may go to those who run their own labs. Entrepreneurial skills are important for anyone choosing this career path.

Another way to secure your future and make good money in this field is to develop a specialization, like that of Rose's employee who had expertise in the crown and bridge area.

"There's a real demand, especially for the more skilled technicians, such as crown and bridge technicians. There's a real high craft to it. They build the tooth basically from scratch, layer after layer," explains Rose.

"You have to keep on top of technology," stresses Tony Sarrapuchiello. He is the president of a denturists' association.

He believes that technologists who keep up with new methods, such as implants, will have more and more opportunities. That's because techniques for restoring teeth are becoming more sophisticated and cosmetic dentistry is becoming more popular.

"I don't think we can say there's going to be a humungous increase [in demand for dental technologists] in the next 10 or so years. People just will not be losing their teeth like in the past because of increased overall dental health," says Sarrapuchiello.

Rose agrees. She notes that one thing technology can't do is replace the actual technologist. "Technology will continue to play a role in terms of the products that are used in the manufacture of products that the technologist eventually uses, but it will continue to be very much a hands-on profession," she says.

"Every patient is different, and each needs individualized service."

A high school diploma is required to enter the field as a technician, according to Rose. However, the best way to advance quickly as a dental technologist is to acquire education and certification early in your career or before you work in the industry.Rosenberg believes that education and certification will continue to become more important.

"[There's] no question that we will become busier over the next few years," says Rosenberg. "Government directives to require certification for the profession are going to become more specific."

One thing is for certain -- as long as we need to chew and as long as we like to smile, the future is secure for those who work in the dental technology industry.


Education and Training Requirements for Dental Technicians
Information from the American Dental Association

How to Become a Certified Dental Technician
Find out what you need to do

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