Last updated on September 21st, 2023.
Even though you don’t deal directly with patients, being a dental technician can be a rewarding field. Your skill in creating dental prosthetics, crowns, bridges, and dentures helps someone look and feel better about themselves. This career field also typically offers full-time work and a steady income.
The career outlook for dental technicians is extremely positive with an expected growth of 12% per year between 2020 and 2030 compared to 8% for all jobs. Salaries are slightly below the median for all occupations at $39,090 annually, or $18.79 per hour.
Are you thinking about becoming a dental technician? Need to know what’s involved in the job and what pay you could expect? You’ve come to the right place – read on.
What Skills Do You Need to be a Dental Technician?
If you like the idea of working in the dental field, but aren’t interested in the extra years of schooling required to be a dentist, then the role of a dental technician could be just the thing for you. Rather than seeing patients, you will work primarily in a laboratory setting to build, fit, and repair dental devices and appliances.
Dental techs are often creative, artistic people who enjoy working and crafting things with their hands. This creativity pairs well with the hands-on nature of the job, but is certainly not a requirement. The field is a great blend of art and science. Let’s take a look at the education and skills that you need to be a dental technician.
Training to be a dental tech generally happens on the job, but there are several soft skills that will help you be successful in the field.
- Attention to detail: Be able to follow the dentists’ instructions and prescriptions exactly.
- Dexterity: Steady and flexible hands and fingers are needed.
- Science and math: Be able to understand necessary math and science concepts
- Time Management: Set priorities and meet deadlines.
- Technology savvy: Increased use of computer-aided designs and 3-D printing necessitates some technological know-how and/or ability to learn.
- Problem-solving: Use knowledge and experience to reach a solution but also know when to ask for help.
- Communication: Communicate well and often with co-workers and managers.
- Team player: Respect others and develop interpersonal skills.
To be a dental tech, you need to have a high school diploma or GED. While most employers don’t require a college degree, your employment outlook will be better with a two-year Dental Technician associate’s degree or certificate.
Specializing in a particular area of dental tech work such as ceramics, crowns, or bridges will require you to pass an exam through the National Board for Certification in Dental Technology. After three or four years on the job, a dental tech is considered fully trained.
What Does a Day in the Life of a Dental Technician Look Like?
Dental techs typically work full-time – 40 hours per week – with regular 8-5 business hours being the most common. Those who are self-employed may work longer hours in order to meet the workload demand.
Workplace environments are varied. Small dental labs usually employ two to ten or more techs while larger labs often have 100 or more dental techs on the payroll. Some techs actually work in a dentist office, but they still do not interact with patients.
Technicians have their own workspace equipped with grinders, Bunsen burners, polishing instruments, and specialized hand tools such as files, carvers and spatulas. With the advancement of technology, workstations also include computers with design software and 3-D printing capability.
Dental techs will work with a variety of materials including wax, alloy, ceramic, plastic, and porcelain
Once settled in at the workbench, a dental tech can expect to spend the work day doing tasks like:
- Designing and creating dentures, retainers, or mouth guards
- Use dentists’ molds to make models of patients’ mouth or teeth structure
- Crafting crowns or bridges
- Working on diagnostic wax ups
- Building dental prosthetics to specification
- Fuse porcelain to metal restoration pieces
- Documenting lab work and processes
Is Being a Dental Technician Stressful?
According to Research Gate, which conducted a study on the stress of being a dental technician, the job of a dental tech is a fairly high stress occupation. Using interview questions and accounting for different personality characteristics, researchers found that technicians ranked a 3.96 on a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is a high stress job.
Job stress was attributed to a heavy workload, being tasked with making a difficult dental piece, or being blamed when a dental device had a very specific error.
Where Do Dental Technicians Get Paid the Most?
In 2021, the median pay for dental technicians was $39,090, which is an hourly rate of $18.79. Pay varies in different parts of the country, but the top salaries can be found in five states.
|State||Mean Annual Wage||Mean Hourly Wage|
|New York||$ 58,890||$ 28.31|
|Alaska||$ 56,140||$ 26.99|
|Delaware||$ 55,760||$ 26.81|
|New Jersey||$ 55,060||$ 26.47|
|Washington||$ 51,650||$ 24.83|
Are Dental Technicians in Demand?
With the need for dental techs expected to increase by 12% per year through 2030, the job outlook for the field is very positive. There is already a shortage of workers in this career area causing a high demand for experienced techs.
An aging population, accidents, and ongoing lack of personal oral care continue to contribute to the need for dental work. The costs of dental prosthetics like veneers and crowns is decreasing, making these smile enhancers more accessible to more people.
Technology continues to improve the output of dental labs with more realistic and natural devices, and so the demand for these new and improved items increases. Dental technicians are, and will continue to be, in demand for years to come.
A career as a dental technician is a good choice for someone who likes to blend science and math with art and creativity. It is hands-on but increasingly offers the chance to use technology to provide a more natural product. While the salary is slightly lower than for other careers, the demand for this type of work will provide ample career opportunities for the foreseeable future.
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