Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

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.

Work Environment for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians[About this section] [To Top]

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians hold about 82,200 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was distributed as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians 38,100
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 29,100
Medical appliance technicians 15,000

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

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 55%
Health and personal care stores 12
Offices of dentists 7
Offices of optometrists 5
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 5

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.

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician and Medical Appliance TechnicianWork Schedules

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

How to Become a Dental or Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician or Medical Appliance Technician[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians near you!

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 for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

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.

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technician and Medical Appliance TechnicianTraining

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 for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

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 for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

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.

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is $34,630. 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 $21,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,770.

Median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians are as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians $37,680
Medical appliance technicians 35,980
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 30,640

The median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Offices of dentists $39,000
Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 35,110
Offices of optometrists 31,870
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 29,980
Health and personal care stores 29,370

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

Job Outlook for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 13 percent over the next ten years, 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.

On the one hand, 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.

On the other hand, because baby boomers and their children visited the dentist more than previous generations did, received fluoride treatments, and received more dental health education, they are more likely to retain their teeth than previous generations were. 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 who make them.

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.

Employment projections data for Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians 82,200 93,200 13 11,000
  Dental laboratory technicians 38,100 43,600 14 5,500
  Medical appliance technicians 15,000 17,000 14 2,000
  Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 29,100 32,500 12 3,400


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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