What is a Dental Laboratory Technology Degree?

Dental laboratory technicians work behind the scenes and have limited, often no contact with patients. They make crowns, bridges, ceramics, dentures, implants, and braces that are prescribed by dentists.

Students of dental laboratory technology learn all aspects of the art and science of crafting these restorative devices, known as dental prostheses. They learn in the classroom, in the teaching lab, and in real-world labs. Programs begin with core classes in functional anatomy – the study of bodily structure as it relates to function – and head and neck anatomy.

Program Options

Certificate in Dental Laboratory Technology – Eighteen Month to Two Year Duration
Associate Degree in Dental Laboratory Technology – Two Year Duration
Certificate and associate programs in dental laboratory technology are offered by technical and vocational schools and community colleges. Typically, both programs have a practicum component. The associate curriculum includes general education courses in college-level math and writing. The American Dental Association website provides a list of accredited programs.

Here is a snapshot of the core courses in dental laboratory technology:

• Introduction to Non-Metallic Dental Materials – characteristics, uses, and limitations of dental lab materials; infection control
• Tooth Morphology – tooth form, structure, and function, wax buildup, development of anatomical crowns
• Complete Dentures I – introduction to denture fabrication, fabricating impression trays, constructing baseplates, contouring full dentures
• Fixed Prosthodontics I – construction of casts and dies, identifying margins, developing wax patterns for crowns
• Complete Dentures II – full denture construction
• Fixed Prosthodontics II – fabrication of multi-unit fixed bridge restorations
• Restorative Dental Ceramics I - theory and techniques of ceramic-metal dental restorations including crowns and all-ceramic restorations
• Removable Partial Dentures I – theory and practice of removable, partial dental construction
• Principles of Chemistry – atomic structure, elements, compounds and mixtures, formulas, physical states, bonding, acid-base theory, solutions, and gas laws
• Science of Dental Metallurgy – physical and mechanical properties of metals used in the laboratory; soldering, welding, and casting procedures; polishing agents; safety procedures
• Principles of Occlusion – how the teeth meet when the lower jaw and upper jaw meet, structure of the oral cavity
• Removable Partial Dentures II – finishing and polishing metal frameworks, arranging teeth, finishing and polishing acrylic attachments, repair procedures
• Restorative Dental Ceramics II – design and construction of all ceramic restorations (laminates), contouring and firing of porcelains, glazing and staining of bridges and crowns
• Complete Dentures III – set-up for an immediate full denture; restoring fit, function, and aesthetics
• Computer-Aided Design (CAD / Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) in Dentistry – theory and practice of fabricating dental prosthetics digitally, material selection, the final dental prosthesis
• Laboratory Operation, Ethics, and the Law - fundamental of operating and managing a dental lab, ethical and legal obligations of the dental technician
• Fixed Prosthodontics – computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing of dental prosthetic restorations, specialized multi-unit bridgework, composite restorative materials
• Orthodontics – history of orthodontics, types of normal occlusion and malocclusion, types of appliances used to move teeth, the physiological actions that occur when teeth are moved through bone as a result of orthodontic treatment
• Complete Dentures and Maxillofacial Concepts – flexible partial dentures, maxillofacial (relating to the jaws and face) reconstruction techniques, fabrication of a palatal obturator (a prosthesis that can be used to close defects like an opening in the roof of the mouth)
• Restorative Dental Ceramics Practicum – restorations using actual impressions, fabrication of CAD/CAM restorations
• Dental Implant Prosthetics – theory and practice of fabricating dental implant prosthetics; fixed and removable implants; surgically anchored, bone-integrated implants

Degrees Similar to Dental Laboratory Technology

Dental Assisting
Dental assisting education programs teach the clinical and administrative components of working as a dental assistant. Students learn in classroom, laboratory, and real-world settings. Those who wish to work in a specialized area of dentistry, such as pediatric or orthodontic care, can often focus on it during the practicum portion of their training.

Dental Hygiene
Degree programs in dental hygiene train students how to clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases, treat tooth decay, and educate patients how to care for their teeth and gums. The dental hygiene curriculum is more clinical than the dental assisting curriculum. It focuses on subjects like dental anatomy, periodontics (the supporting structures of teeth), microbiology, and pathology (disease).

There is no distinct pre-dentistry degree. ‘Pre-dentistry’ or is merely a term that students planning to go to dental school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring dentists enter dental school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-dental student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to dental school.

Clinical Medical Assisting
This degree program prepares students to work as assistants to medical doctors. The typical curriculum covers medical terminology, medical office administration, insurance, and medical software. As the role of medical assistant may involve some basic clinical tasks, students also learn the fundamentals of human disease, disease diagnosis, and medications.

Surgical Technology
Surgical technology certificate and degree programs teach students how to be effective members of operating room teams. Students learn how to equip operating rooms for specific procedures, how to prepare patients for surgery, how to sterilize surgical instruments, and how to assist doctors, nurses, and patients. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, surgical patient care, and health law and ethics.

Skills You'll Learn

In addition to their specific technical skills, dental laboratory technology grads leave their studies with valuable transferable skills:

• Attention to Detail – if a crown or denture or bridge is not meticulously crafted it will not fit the patient properly
• Hand-eye Coordination and Manual Dexterity – the work of a dental lab technician is precise and delicate work; making dental prostheses involves manipulating instruments, tools, wires, and materials
• Artistic Sensibility – the science of creating dental prostheses is also an art; every patient’s teeth are different, meaning that every piece is a custom, original piece
• Curiosity and Adaptability – dental laboratory technology is always evolving; technicians in the field have to be comfortable with learning new methods and how to use new instruments
• Color Perception – some of the work that dental lab technicians do requires that they are able to distinguish between subtle color variations
• Independence – even if they are employed by large commercial laboratories, dental lab technicians generally work alone, focused on individually assigned projects

What Can You Do with a Dental Laboratory Technology Degree?

Because of the very specific nature of their degree, dental laboratory technicians generally work directly in the dental lab field. Their employment options include:

• Dental Laboratories – larger labs present opportunities to become supervisors, department heads, or quality-control specialists
• Dental Laboratory Technology Training Programs – teaching roles
• Dental Manufacturers and Dental Supply Companies – sales and marketing roles
• Dental Offices – some larger dental consortiums may employ their own lab tech instead of contracting work to commercial laboratories
• Dental Schools
• Hospitals
• Military-base Dental Laboratories
• Private Practice

Depending on where they are employed, some dental laboratory technicians may choose to work exclusively in one of the dental technology specialties:

• Conservation – crown and bridge work
• Orthodontics – design and making of braces
• Prosthodontics – Complete Dentures
• Prosthodontics – Partial Dentures
• Prosthodontics – Implants
• Maxillofacial – reconstruction of jaws and faces which have undergone trauma


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