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
2014 Median Pay $33,430 per year
$16.07 per hour
Typical 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, 2014 83,500
Job Outlook, 2014-24 10% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 8,700

What Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians Do

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair appliances and devices, including 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

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

Pay

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $33,430 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster 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. In addition, the aging baby-boomer population will spur demand for orthotic devices, such as braces and orthopedic footwear, because older people tend to need these supportive devices.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians.

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
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians often use automated equipment to make lenses.

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair 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 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, plastic, and porcelain, to make prosthetic appliances. 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 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 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 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 83,500 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 54%
Ambulatory healthcare services 14
Health and personal care stores 11

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 or in healthcare facilities.

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 must work well with their hands because they use precise instruments.

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

Education

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. There are some postsecondary programs available at community colleges or technical or vocational schools in dental laboratory technology and ophthalmic laboratory technology, but these are not common. High school students interested in becoming dental or ophthalmic laboratory technicians or medical appliance technicians should take courses in science, 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 making porcelain 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 laboratory 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 (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. Candidates also must pass 3 exams within a period of 4 years.

The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABCOP) 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 2014

Total, all occupations

$35,540

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

$33,430

Other production occupations

$30,290

 

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $33,430 in May 2014. 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 $20,980, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,520.

Median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in May 2014 were as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians $36,830
Medical appliance technicians 35,580
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 28,890

In May 2014, 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:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing $34,410
Ambulatory healthcare services 34,200
Health and personal care stores 28,770

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 2014-24

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

10%

Total, all occupations

7%

Other production occupations

-2%

 

Employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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. 

An aging baby-boomer population is projected to create a need for medical appliance technicians because diabetes and cardiovascular disease, two leading causes of loss of limbs, 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.

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, and this need will increase demand for ophthalmic laboratory technicians.

Employment projections data for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

83,500 92,200 10 8,700

Dental laboratory technicians

51-9081 38,700 42,900 11 4,200 [XLSX]

Medical appliance technicians

51-9082 14,600 16,100 11 1,600 [XLSX]

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians

51-9083 30,200 33,200 10 3,000 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

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 2014 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 $34,280
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 $101,410
Medical equipment repairers

Medical Equipment Repairers

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

Associate's degree $45,660
Dentists

Dentists

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

Doctoral or professional degree $154,640
Orthotists and prosthetists

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Orthotists and prosthetists design and fabricate 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 $64,040

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 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 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 and 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, 2016-17 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 February 06, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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State & Area Data

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2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.