Field is growing ‘much faster than average, compared with all other careers,’ according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
With an annual mean wage of $45,520 statewide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and no education requirements, the dental lab tech career offers generous remuneration.
Few other positions related to healthcare pay so well with so few education requirements.
Lab techs may make and repair orthodontic devices or dental prosthesis like dentures and bridges or crowns. These devices are all custom equipment specially made according to the patient’s forms and the specifications from the doctor.
Dental lab techs don’t interact with patients; however, their relationships with doctors require a level of customer service and interpersonal skills. Dental lab techs must pay careful attention to detail and understand why these details will play a large role in the patient’s satisfaction with their experience with their dental professional.
“You have to know what you’re doing, pay attention to detail and have good fine motor skills,” said Joe Sofinski, co-owner and dental lab technician at AFX Dental Lab in Syracuse.
The firm makes bridges and dental devices, but not orthodontic equipment.
“It comes down to functionality and how it works for the patent. Everything you do is for the patient. What the doctor gives you is what you have to work with.”
Many in the industry like to think of dental lab work as a blend of artistry and technical skills. Dental and orthodontic devices must function, but should also look good so patients are pleased with the results. Such fine, detailed work requires specific skills.
“The most important thing is they have to have above average manual dexterity,” said dentist Emile Rossouw, chairman and program director of Eastman Institute for Oral Health’s Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics Department in Rochester. “They have to have good hands. They also have to have an appreciation for art. If they have some art genes or talent, that would be fantastic.”
Of course, additional schooling would only help a dental tech to advance in the career; however, many employers provide on-the-job training. A few community colleges in the region offer two-year courses, including Erie Community College in Buffalo and Monroe Community College in Rochester.
With this kind of experience and education, people may work at orthodontic labs, dental labs, doctor’s offices and larger dental and orthodontic offices.
Sofinski, the co-owner of AFX Dental Lab in Syracuse, began working under a senior technician right out of high school in 1987. Later, he completed a training course at a school that’s no longer operating, but only to meet an employer’s requirement.
“It definitely helps to know the terminology and know what you’re looking at before you touch it,” Sofinksi said.
From there, he continued to work for laboratories. By 2005, he started his own company, AFX.
“I like being able to make something artistic that matches existing dental function,” Sofinski said. “It makes the patient happy.”
While dealing with some doctors can be challenging from time to time, Sofinski continues to foster good relationships with doctors that helps the work go more smoothly.
In the past five years, the use of CAD technology has affected the industry. Many designs he receives are digital; however physical impressions are still in use.
While 3-D printers can create some dental devices like tray aligners, they don’t take the place of dental lab techs. The printers also require skilled technicians to operate them, so their presence in the industry doesn’t mean fewer jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an increase in the demand for dental lab techs to increase by 11% between 2018 and 2028, rated as “much faster than average, compared with all other careers.
Photo: Dental lab techs may make and repair orthodontic devices or dental prosthesis like dentures and bridges or crowns. Mean wage for the profession is $45,520 statewide. It doesn’t require extensive schooling.