Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair medical appliances and devices, including dentures, eyeglasses, and prosthetics.

Duties

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically do the following:

  • Follow detailed work orders and prescriptions
  • Determine which materials and tools will be needed
  • Bend, form, and shape fabric or material
  • Polish and shape appliances and devices, using hand or power tools
  • Adjust appliances or devices to allow for a more natural look or to improve function
  • Inspect the final product for quality and accuracy
  • Repair damaged appliances and devices

In small laboratories and offices, technicians may handle every phase of production. In larger ones, technicians may be responsible for only one phase of production, such as polishing, measuring, or testing.

Dental laboratory technicians use traditional or digital impressions or molds of a patient’s teeth to create crowns, bridges, dentures, and other dental appliances. They work closely with dentists, but have limited contact with patients.

Dental laboratory technicians work with small hand tools, such as files and polishers. They work with many different materials, including wax, alloy, ceramic, plastic, and porcelain, to make prosthetic appliances. In some cases, technicians use computer programs or three-dimensional printers to create appliances or to get impressions sent from a dentist’s office.

Dental laboratory technicians can specialize in one or more of the following: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, or ceramics. Technicians may have different job titles, depending on their specialty. For example, technicians who make ceramic restorations such as veneers and bridges, are called dental ceramists.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians make prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. They are also commonly known as manufacturing opticians or optical mechanics.

Although they make some lenses by hand, ophthalmic laboratory technicians often use automated equipment. Some technicians manufacture lenses for optical instruments, such as telescopes and binoculars. Ophthalmic laboratory technicians should not be confused with dispensing opticians, who work with customers to select eyewear and may prepare work orders for ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

Medical appliance technicians construct, fit, and repair medical supportive devices, including arch supports, facial parts, and foot and leg braces.

Medical appliance technicians use many different types of materials, such as metal, plastic, and leather, to create a variety of medical devices for patients who need them because of a birth defect, an accident, disease, amputation, or the effects of aging. For example, some medical appliance technicians make hearing aids.

Orthotic and prosthetic technicians, also called O&P technicians, are medical appliance technicians who create orthoses (braces, supports, and other devices) and prostheses (replacement limbs and facial parts). These technicians work closely with orthotists or prosthetists.

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Work Environment

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians held about 81,500 jobs in 2018. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was distributed as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians 36,500
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians                                    29,400
Medical appliance technicians 15,500

The largest employers of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 57%
Health and personal care stores 12
Offices of dentists 7
Offices of optometrists 5
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers                                     4

Technicians may be exposed to health and safety hazards when they handle certain materials, but there is little risk if they follow proper procedures, such as wearing goggles, gloves, or masks. They may spend a great deal of time standing or bending.

Work Schedules

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians work full time.

Education and Training

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent and receive on-the-job training.

Education

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. There are some postsecondary programs in dental laboratory technology at community colleges or technical or vocational schools that award an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate. High school students interested in becoming dental or ophthalmic laboratory technicians or medical appliance technicians should take courses in science, human anatomy, math, computer programming, and art.

Training

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians learn their skills through on-the-job training. They usually begin as helpers in a laboratory and learn more advanced skills as they gain experience. For example, dental laboratory technicians may begin by pouring plaster into an impression to make a model. As they become more experienced, they may progress to more complex tasks, such as designing and fabricating crowns and bridges. Because all laboratories are different, the length of training varies.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must pay attention to detail. Technicians must follow work orders and prescriptions accurately and precisely. In addition, they need to be able to recognize and correct any imperfections in their work.

Dexterity. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must work well with their hands because they use precise instruments.

Interpersonal skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians need to be able to work effectively with others because they may be part of a team of technicians working on a single project. In addition, they need good communication skills to ensure safety when they work with hazardous materials.

Technical skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians need to have an in-depth knowledge of how different tools and materials work. They also must understand how to operate complex machinery. Some procedures are automated, so technicians must know how to operate and change the programs that run the machinery.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification is not required for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians or medical appliance technicians. However, technicians may choose to earn specialty certifications because they show professional competence in a specialized field.

The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology offers certification as a Certified Dental Technician (CDT). Certification is available in six specialty areas: orthodontics, crown and bridge, complete dentures, partial dentures, implants, and ceramics.

To qualify for the CDT, technicians must have at least 5 years of on-the-job training or experience in dental technology or have graduated from an accredited dental laboratory technician program. Candidates also must pass three exams within a period of 4 years.

The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics offers certification for orthotic and/or prosthetic technicians. Technicians are eligible for the certification exam after completing an accredited program or if they have 2 years of experience as a technician under the direct supervision of a certified orthotist or prosthetist or O&P technician.

Advancement

In large laboratories, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians may work their way up to a supervisory level and may train new technicians. Some may go on to own their own laboratory.

Medical appliance technicians can advance to become orthotists or prosthetists after completing additional formal education. These practitioners work with patients who need braces, prostheses, or related devices.

Personality and Interests

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically have an interest in the Building Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a dental and ophthalmic laboratory technician and medical appliance technician, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Because dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must construct medical devices with accuracy and precision, they need to have an in-depth knowledge of how different tools and materials work.

Detail oriented. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must pay attention to detail. They need to be able to recognize and correct any imperfections in the devices.

Dexterity. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must work well with their hands because they use precise laboratory instruments.

Interpersonal skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians need to be able to get along with others because they may be part of a team of technicians working on a single project. In addition, they need good communication to ensure safety when they work with hazardous materials.

Technical skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must understand how to operate complex machinery. Some procedures are automated, so technicians must know how to operate and change the programs that run the machinery.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $37,370 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,250, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,110.

Median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in May 2019 were as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians $41,340
Medical appliance technicians 40,690
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians                               32,620

In May 2019, the median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Offices of dentists $43,900
Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 38,110
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers                            33,840
Offices of optometrists 32,240
Health and personal care stores 31,150

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians work full time.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

As cosmetic prosthetics, such as veneers and crowns, become less expensive, demand for these appliances will likely increase. Accidents and poor oral health, which can cause damage and loss of teeth, will continue to create a need for dental laboratory technician services. In addition, because the risk of oral cancer increases significantly with age, an aging population will increase demand for dental appliances, given that complications can require both cosmetic and functional dental reconstruction.

There should be increased demand for orthotic devices as the large baby-boom population ages. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, two leading causes of loss of limbs, are more likely to occur as people age. In addition, advances in technology may spur demand for prostheses that allow for more natural movement.

Moreover, most people need vision correction at some point in their lives. As the population continues to grow and age, more people will need more vision aids, such as glasses and contact lenses, which should increase demand for ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

Job Prospects

Because of demands from an aging population, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians should have good job prospects. Technicians who have earned professional certification and who are familiar with high tech skills, such as three-dimensional printing, are likely to have the best job prospects.

For More Information

For information about requirements for certification of dental laboratory technicians, visit

National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology

For information about career opportunities in commercial dental laboratories, visit

National Association of Dental Laboratories

For a list of accredited programs for medical appliance technicians, visit

American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists

National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education

For information on requirements for certification of medical appliance technicians, visit

American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics

CareerOneStop

For a career video on medical appliance technicians, visit

Medical Appliance Technicians

 

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