Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Summary

dental laboratory technicians image
Dental laboratory technicians create crowns, bridges, dentures, and other dental prosthetics.
Quick Facts: Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians
2012 Median Pay $33,070 per year
$15.90 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2012 82,900
Job Outlook, 2012-22 7% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 5,600

What Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians Do

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair devices that increase function in the lives of patients. These devices include dentures, eyeglasses, and prosthetics.

Work Environment

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians often work in laboratories. Most technicians work full time.

How to Become a Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician or Medical Appliance Technician

There are no specific educational requirements to become a dental or ophthalmic laboratory technician or medical appliance technician. Most technicians learn their skills on the job.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $33,070 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. As cosmetic prosthetics, such as veneers and crowns, become less expensive, there should be an increase in demand for these appliances.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians Do About this section

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians
Although some lenses are produced by hand, technicians often use automated equipment to make lenses.

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair devices that increase function in the lives of patients. These devices include dentures, eyeglasses, and prosthetics.

Duties

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

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

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 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 to make prosthetic appliances, including wax, plastic, and porcelain. In some cases, technicians use computer programs to create appliances or to get impressions sent from a dentist’s office.

Dental laboratory technicians can specialize in one of six areas: 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 porcelain and acrylic 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, optical mechanics, or optical goods workers.

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 eyeware 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 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 and prosthetists.

Work Environment About this section

dental laboratory technicians image
Medical appliance technicians construct, fit, and repair medical supportive devices, including prosthetic limbs.

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians held about 82,900 jobs in 2012.

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically work in clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated laboratories. Most laboratories are small and employ only a few workers. Some laboratories, however, have as many as several hundred employees. Other technicians work in health and personal care stores. Technicians usually have limited contact with the public.

Injuries and illness

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.

How to Become a Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician or Medical Appliance Technician About this section

Dental laboratory technicians
Dental laboratory technicians need to work well with their hands.

There are no specific educational requirements to become a dental or ophthalmic laboratory technician or medical appliance technician. Most technicians learn their skills on the job.

Education

Although there are no formal educational requirements to become a dental or ophthalmic laboratory technician or medical appliance technician, most technicians have at least a high school diploma. Some community colleges and technical or vocational schools have formal education programs, but such programs are not common. High school students interested in becoming dental or ophthalmic laboratory technicians or medical appliance technicians should take courses in science, mathematics, computer programming, and art.

Training

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians learn 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 making porcelain crowns and bridges. Because all laboratories are different, the length of training varies.

Important 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Certification is not required for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians or medical appliance technicians. However, several organizations offer certifications for these technicians to indicate they have a certain level of professional skill.

The National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC) offers certification as a Certified Dental Technician (CDT). Certification is available in six specialty areas: orthodontic appliances, crowns and bridges, 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, and pass three exams.

The NBC also provides a modularization program that leads to a Certificate of Competency. Dental technicians can also get a Certificate of Competency in each specific skill through a written and practical exam on that skill.

The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) offers certification for medical appliance 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 medical appliance 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.

Pay About this section

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Median annual wages, May 2012

Medical appliance technicians

$36,100

Dental laboratory technicians

$36,090

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

$33,070

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians

$28,590

 

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $33,070 in May 2012. 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 more than $20,160, and the top 10 percent earned more than $55,270.

Median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in May 2012 were as follows:

  • $36,090 for dental laboratory technicians
  • $36,100 for medical appliance technicians
  • $28,590 for ophthalmic laboratory technicians

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

Job Outlook About this section

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians

12%

Total, all occupations

11%

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

7%

Medical appliance technicians

6%

Dental laboratory technicians

3%

 

Employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

As cosmetic prosthetics, such as veneers and crowns, become less expensive, there should be an increase in demand for these appliances. Accidents and poor oral health, which can cause damage and loss of teeth, will continue to create a need for dental laboratory technician services. Dental technician services will be in demand, as dentists work to improve the aesthetics and function of patients’ teeth.

On the other hand, baby boomers and their children are more likely to retain their teeth than previous generations. This is due to increased visits to dentists, increased use of fluoride, and more dental health education. These factors will likely lead to a decrease in the number of full and partial dentures and other prosthetics used to replace missing teeth and will temper demand for the technicians that make them.                                  

An aging baby-boomer population will create a need for medical appliance technicians because diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the two leading causes of limb loss, are more likely to occur as people age. The demand for orthotic devices, such as braces and orthopedic footwear, will increase because older people tend to need these supportive devices. In addition, advances in technology may spur demand for prostheses that allow for more natural movement.

Most people need vision correction at some point in their lives. As the population continues to grow, people will need more vision aids, such as glasses and contact lenses, and this will cause demand for ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

As laser vision correction becomes less expensive, there will be an increase in the demand for that service and a decrease in the demand for eyeglasses. However, this decrease will be tempered, as even with laser correction, almost all adults need reading glasses or corrective eyewear later in their lives. This is caused by retinal hardening, which happens naturally as people age, making it harder for the eye to focus.

Employment projections data for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

82,900 88,500 7 5,600

Dental laboratory technicians

51-9081 39,000 40,000 3 1,000 [XLS]

Medical appliance technicians

51-9082 12,900 13,800 6 800 [XLS]

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians

51-9083 31,000 34,700 12 3,700 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Opticians, dispensing

Opticians, Dispensing

Dispensing opticians help fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists. They also help customers decide which eyeglass frames or contact lenses to buy.

High school diploma or equivalent $33,330
Optometrists

Optometrists

Optometrists examine the eyes and other parts of the visual system. They also diagnose, and treat visual problems, and manage diseases, injuries, and other disorders of the eyes. They prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses as needed.

Doctoral or professional degree $97,820
Medical equipment repairers

Medical Equipment Repairers

Medical equipment repairers install, maintain, and repair patient care equipment.

Associate’s degree $44,570
Dentists

Dentists

Dentists diagnose and treat problems with a patient’s teeth, gums, and related parts of the mouth. They provide advice and instruction on taking care of teeth and gums and on diet choices that affect oral health.

Doctoral or professional degree $149,310
Orthotists and prosthetists

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Orthotists and prosthetists, also called O&P professionals, design medical supportive devices and measure and fit patients for them. These devices include artificial limbs (arms, hands, legs, and feet), braces, and other medical or surgical devices.

Master’s degree $62,670

Contacts for More Information About this section

For a list of accredited programs in dental laboratory technology, visit

Commission on Dental Accreditation, American Dental Association

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

National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology

For information on career opportunities in commercial dental laboratories, visit

National Association of Dental Laboratories

For a list of ophthalmic laboratories, visit

The Vision Council

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

American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists

National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education

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

American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics

O*NET

Dental Laboratory Technicians

Medical Appliance Technicians

Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/dental-and-ophthalmic-laboratory-technicians-and-medical-appliance-technicians.htm (visited October 21, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014