Dental technicians mold, carve, color and set the teeth in dentures and fixed dental prosthetics like crowns, bridges and implants. Although technology is reducing some of the mundane tasks, dental technicians still need skill and creativity.
Excel Dental Studios makes both dentures and fixed dental prosthetics like crowns, bridges and implants. Each of those two main departments has several different roles for dental technicians who mold, carve, color and set the teeth.
Still, when you tour the plant and meet the workers, a consistent theme emerges: "She makes wonderful cakes," Customer service resource, Jane Hartner says of one employee. "She's an accomplished seamstress," she says of another. "He does woodworking in his spare time," she notes of a third.
Science And Art
Clearly, being a dental technician is both a science and an art, and it appeals to people with a creative bent. Compared to other manufacturing operations, where most of the machines are run by computers, dental technicians do many tasks by hand. For bridges and implants, teeth are built, colored and carved individually. For dentures, the teeth are pre-made but must be set by hand into a bite rim that's created for each patient.
Joel Richardson, Excel Dental Studios laboratory manager, says the use of computer-assisted design (CAD) and rapid prototyping methods is growing rapidly. For example, dentists now can send computer-assisted scans of teeth instead of three-dimensional impressions. Digital technologies will take on many of the mundane and repetitive tasks of the dental technician, Richardson predicts. This automation will free up technicians to perform the highly artistic functions that each dental restoration needs to be truly unique for each patient.
A basic knowledge of computer keyboarding and computer operation is a must for an entry-level position. The other must-have, Richardson says, is spatial aptitude. Every job applicant takes a spatial aptitude test, and the results are a reliable indicator of how well someone will do as a dental technician. "We thought we could get beyond that with good training, but it didn't work," Richardson says.
On The Job Training
While there are more than 24 licensed programs for dental technicians in the U.S., the nearest program to the Twin Cities is in Watertown, SD. As a result, most area dental technicians learn on the job or while serving in the Armed Forces. There is a clear career path in the industry from entry-level model-making, starting at about $9 an hour, to highly skilled Crown and Bridge and Denture technicians, who can make $70,000 a year or more.
Hartner, who has been in the industry for 28 years, says, "There is never a boring day. There is always something new to learn." There is also the reward of knowing that your work is designed to put a smile on someone's face - literally.
For more information on dental technicians, visit the National Association of Dental Laboratories website: www.nadl.org.
Laura French is principal of Words Into Action, Inc., and is a freelance writer from Roseville.