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Career Guide: Medical Appliance, Dental Lab, and Ophthalmic Lab Technicians

Career Guide: Medical Appliance, Dental Lab, and Ophthalmic Lab Technicians

(Source: Creative Commons)

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work environment. Medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians generally work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated laboratories. They have limited contact with the public. Salaried laboratory technicians usually work 40 hours a week, but some work part time. At times, technicians wear goggles to protect their eyes, gloves to handle hot objects, or masks to avoid inhaling dust. They may spend a great deal of time standing.

Dental technicians usually have their own workbenches, which can be equipped with Bunsen burners, grinding and polishing equipment, and hand instruments, such as wax spatulas and wax carvers. Some dental technicians have computer-aided milling equipment to assist them with creating artificial teeth.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians learn their craft on the job; however, many employers prefer to hire those with formal training.

Education and training. High school students interested in becoming medical appliance technicians should take mathematics, metal and wood shop, and drafting. Medical appliance technicians usually begin as helpers and gradually learn new skills as they gain experience.

Formal training is also available. In 2006, there were four orthotic and prosthetic technician programs accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE). These programs offer either an associate degree or a 1-year certificate for orthotic or prosthetic technicians. The programs instruct students on human anatomy and physiology, orthotic and prosthetic equipment and materials, and applied biomechanical principles to customize orthotics or prostheses. The programs also include clinical rotations to provide hands-on experience.

Dental laboratory technicians begin by learning simple tasks, such as pouring plaster into an impression, and progress to more complex procedures, such as making porcelain crowns and bridges. Becoming a fully trained technician requires an average of 3 to 4 years, depending upon the individual’s aptitude and ambition, but it may take a few years more to become an accomplished technician. High school students interested in becoming dental laboratory technicians should take courses in art, metal and wood shop, drafting, and sciences. Courses in management and business may help those wishing to operate their own laboratories.

More on Clinical Lab Techs


Salary: $49,7000r
Min. Education: Bachelor's
Related Careers: Nuclear Med Tech, Biological Technician

Training in dental laboratory technology also is available through community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Formal training programs vary greatly both in length and in the level of skill they impart. In 2006, 20 programs in dental laboratory technology were accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in conjunction with the American Dental Association. These programs provide classroom instruction in dental materials science, oral anatomy, fabrication procedures, ethics, and related subjects. In addition, each student is given supervised practical experience in a school or an associated dental laboratory. Accredited programs normally take 2 years to complete and lead to an associate degree. A few programs take about 4 years to complete and offer a bachelor’s degree in dental technology. Graduates of 2-year training programs need additional hands-on experience to become fully qualified.


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