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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 make or repair dentures, eyeglasses, prosthetics, and related products.

Duties

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

  • Read and follow detailed work orders and prescriptions
  • Bend, form, and shape material for appliances or devices
  • Polish and shape appliances and devices, using handtools or power tools
  • Adjust appliances or devices to allow for a natural look or to improve function
  • Inspect the final product for quality and accuracy
  • Repair damaged appliances and devices

Technicians’ duties vary, depending on their employer. In small offices and retail establishments, technicians may handle every phase of production. In large manufacturing and wholesale facilities, 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 handtools, such as files and polishers, and with many different materials, including wax, alloy, ceramic, plastic, and porcelain. Technicians also use computer programs and three-dimensional printers to create dental appliances and restorations.

Dental laboratory technicians may 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 ceramists.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians make prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses. They are also commonly known as optical laboratory technicians.

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians typically use automated equipment to make lenses. 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 and repair medical supportive devices, such as hearing aids or leg braces. They use many different types of materials, such as metal, plastic, and leather.

Medical appliance technicians who create orthoses (braces, supports, and other devices) and prostheses (replacement limbs and facial parts) are sometimes referred to as orthotic and prosthetic technicians or O&P technicians.

Medical appliance technicians should not be confused with hearing aid specialists or orthotists and prosthetists, who work directly with patients. However, technicians may work closely with these other specialists to ensure proper fit or to repair devices.

Work Environment About this section

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

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians held about 75,200 jobs in 2020. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was distributed as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians 33,100
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 27,500
Medical appliance technicians 14,600

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

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 58%
Health and personal care stores 9
Offices of dentists 6
Offices of optometrists 5
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 4

Technicians may be exposed to health and safety hazards when handling certain materials. Workers typically wear protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, or masks, to protect themselves from injury. 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, and schedules may vary.

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

Dental laboratory technicians
Dental laboratory technicians need dexterity to work with precision instruments.

To enter the occupation, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. They typically receive on-the-job training to attain competency.

Education

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. High school students interested in becoming a dental or ophthalmic laboratory technician or medical appliance technician may benefit from taking classes in science, mathematics, and art.

Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree. Some community colleges and technical schools offer programs in dental or ophthalmic laboratory technology in which students gain experience completing specific tasks, such as surfacing and finishing prescription eyewear. Community colleges and technical schools also may offer programs in medical appliance technology fields, such as orthotics and prosthetics technology.

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians learn their skills through on-the-job training. They may begin as helpers and learn more advanced skills as they gain experience. For example, dental laboratory technicians may start out making models from impressions and progress to designing and fabricating crowns and bridges.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although optional, certification may demonstrate a level of competence and professionalism that makes candidates more attractive to employers. It also may increase opportunities for advancement.

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 pass several exams and meet education, training, or experience requirements.

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 experience as a technician under the direct supervision of a certified orthotist or prosthetist or O&P technician.

Some employers prefer that ophthalmic laboratory technicians obtain certification from the American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners (ABO-NCLE) prior to hiring or after completing on-the-job training. Basic certification is earned after passing an exam.

Advancement

In large facilities, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians may work their way up to a supervisory level and train new technicians. Some go on to own their own laboratory.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must follow work orders and prescriptions precisely. They also 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 to use precision instruments.

Interpersonal skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians must be able to work effectively with others. They may be part of a team of technicians working on a single project.

Problem-solving skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians may encounter challenges when constructing or repairing medical devices. They need to be resourceful in finding solutions.

Technical skills. Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians need to understand how different tools and materials work. They also must know how to operate automated machinery and may need proficiency in design software.

Pay About this section

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Median annual wages, May 2021

Total, all occupations

$45,760

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

$39,090

Other production occupations

$37,710

 

The median annual wage for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians was $39,090 in May 2021. 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 $29,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $62,730.

Median annual wages for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians in May 2021 were as follows:

Dental laboratory technicians $45,770
Medical appliance technicians 45,280
Ophthalmic laboratory technicians 37,270

In May 2021, 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:

Offices of dentists $46,640
Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 39,730
Professional and commercial equipment and supplies merchant wholesalers 38,050
Health and personal care stores 35,970
Offices of optometrists 31,490

Most dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians work full time, and schedules may vary.

Job Outlook About this section

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

12%

Total, all occupations

8%

Other production occupations

-1%

 

Overall employment of dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 11,000 openings for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

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. In addition, 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.

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

Employment projections data for dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians

51-9080 75,200 84,400 12 9,200 Get data

Dental laboratory technicians

51-9081 33,100 37,200 12 4,000 Get data

Medical appliance technicians

51-9082 14,600 16,700 14 2,100 Get data

Ophthalmic laboratory technicians

51-9083 27,500 30,600 11 3,100 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

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 accredited programs for ophthalmic laboratory technicians, visit

International Council of Accreditation

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

American Board of Opticianry and National Contact Lens Examiners

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