A Career as a Dental Laboratory Technician
What Dental Laboratory Technicians Do:
Dental laboratory technicians make and repair full and partial dentures,
crowns, and bridges.
Dental laboratory technicians read dentists' prescriptions and create
devices that correct, replace, or restore patients' teeth.
In almost all states,
dental laboratory technicians are prohibited from providing treatment
directly to patients, but must operate entirely from a dentist's
One item that dental
laboratory technicians make is a crown. This is a metal or porcelain
cap that goes on top of a patient's damaged tooth. The dentist will shave
the tooth down to allow space for the crown, and will take an impression
of the tooth that is then sent to the dental laboratory technician. The
dental laboratory technician will then pour plaster into the impression to
create a model of the patient's tooth and its relationship to other teeth.
The technician will then create the crown as a wax model. To do this,
dental laboratory technicians must have a knowledge of tooth anatomy and
occlusion, so that the crown can fit properly between
the patient's other teeth, so that it will chew correctly, and so that the
shape will replicate the original shape of the tooth. Once the wax tooth is prepared, technicians
create a mold of it and pour metal into the mold. The metal is then cut
from the mold. Most crowns also have porcelain baked onto them. In order
to make a lifelike tooth, the dental laboratory technician needs an
artistic sense and an understanding of color, shape, reflectivity,
texture, translucency, and other complexities, in addition to having a
scientific understanding of material properties, hardness, toughness, and
Dental laboratory technicians also create bridges, which attach one or more false teeth to
patients' real teeth. A conventional bridge will be two crowns with one or
more "pontics" (or false teeth) suspended between the crowns. The bridge
can be created as a single cast metal unit, or the units can be soldered
together. Again, usually the dental laboratory technician will bake
porcelain onto the bridge so that the teeth look lifelike.
technicians also make full dentures. A full denture is ordinarily made out
of acrylic. The dental laboratory technician will receive either an
impression or an already poured plaster cast of the patient's gums, and
will create the acrylic base and place the acrylic or porcelain teeth in
that base to create the denture. In the case of dentures, however, the
teeth are made in a factory and the dental laboratory technician places
the teeth in the correct positions so that they are esthetic and
functional for the patient.
Dental laboratory technicians melt metals and mix items such as plaster,
porcelain, or acrylic paste. They use hand tools to sculpt teeth and apply
metal or porcelain. They use polishing machines to remove excess material
and smooth the surfaces of teeth. Technicians also use grinders to change the shape of a tooth
and pliers to bend wires and clasps of removable dental appliances.
Dental laboratory technicians may perform all stages of the work. In some
laboratories, they only do a few parts of the process. They may specialize
in one of five areas: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete
dentures, partial dentures, or ceramics. Job titles may reflect the
specialty area. For example, technicians who make porcelain and acrylic
restorations are called dental ceramicists.
Work Activities of a Dental Laboratory
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to
a dental laboratory technician.
- Read prescriptions to learn what dental device they will create.
- Create models of mouths using molds of patients' teeth.
- Place models on devices to view and test patients' bites.
- Use micrometers to measure small distances or angles.
- Shape and solder wire and metal frames or bands.
- Melt metals and pour into molds.
- "Stack" porcelain slurry to create lifelike teeth.
- Assemble, carve, grind, and polish metal and plastic parts.
- Remove excess metal or porcelain and polish surface of dental
- Rebuild or replace linings, wire sections, and missing teeth to
- Fill chipped or low spots in surfaces of existing false teeth.
This material is
adapted from information provided by
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