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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 prescription.

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 so forth.

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.

Dental laboratory 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 Technician:

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 device.
  • Rebuild or replace linings, wire sections, and missing teeth to repair dentures.
  • Fill chipped or low spots in surfaces of existing false teeth.

This material is adapted from information provided by

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More articles
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