Dental laboratory technicians need superior manual dexterity to build dental appliances out of various materials, such as porcelain and plastic. Some technicians also use dental computer programs to get impressions and make appliances. They can specialize in areas, such as complete or partial dentures, orthodontics, implants or crowns. Dental laboratory technicians earned more than $18 per hour on average, as of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.
According to the BLS, 2011 wages of dental technicians covered a wide range. The average dental lab technician earned $18.54 per hour, or $38,550 for a year of a 40-hour work week. At the 10th percentile, low-earning dental technicians received $10.13 per hour, or $21,070 per year. At the 90th percentile, they earned $28.54 per hour, the equivalent of $59,360 per year.
Eighty-three percent of the 37,600 dental technicians nationwide worked in medical equipment and supplies manufacturing, as of 2011, according to the BLS. The average annual income in this industry was $38,050. Another 13 percent worked in dentists' offices, where they averaged $39,130 per year. The highest paid technicians worked for the federal executive branch, where they earned an average $53,980 per year. However, the federal government employed only 560 dental technicians in 2011.
Highest Pay by Location:
Two states and the District of Columbia had average pay exceeding $50,000 for dental lab technicians, according to the BLS 2011 report. The top-paying state was Alaska, where the average pay came to $58,930 per year. In the District of Columbia, technicians averaged $55,810 annually, while in Massachusetts they averaged $50,910. Three metropolitan areas had average pay exceeding $52,000 per year. Anchorage, Alaska, had an average pay of $58,910, and the greater Boston area had an average of $57,910. The greater Santa Barbara area had an average pay for dental technicians of $52,160 per year.
Training and Certification:
The minimum requirement for a dental lab technician is usually a high school diploma. Many technicians learn by getting jobs as helpers in dental labs and completing on-the-job training. However, community colleges and technical schools offer dental technology programs usually lasting two years, and some universities offer four-year programs. Technicians can also pursue optional certification from the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology. To become certified, applicants need accredited training or five years experience and must pass three exams.
Outlook and Advancement:
Dental lab technicians of the future will increasingly spend their time making crowns, veneers and cosmetic enhancements for natural teeth. The BLS predicts nearly flat job growth, with a 1 percent increase in jobs for dental technicians from 2010 to 2020. The increased demand for cosmetic dentistry will be largely offset by a fall in demand for dentures. Improved dental care among the baby boomers and their children cause this shift in the market. With certification or experience, technicians may qualify for higher pay and supervisory positions or open their own businesses.