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Dental Laboratory Technicians

History

Dental laboratory technicians are little known to most people who visit dentists, yet many dental patients today benefit from their skills. For centuries people have used many kinds of false teeth, with varying success. Thanks to sophisticated techniques and new materials, such as acrylics and plastics, there are efficient, comfortable, and cosmetically acceptable aids available when natural teeth or tissue are missing or unsatisfactory.

Today nearly all dental practitioners utilize the services provided by commercial dental laboratories that handle tasks for a number of practitioners. This was not always the case, however. 

Until the last years of the 19th century, dentists performed all their own lab work. The first successful commercial dental laboratory was established in Boston in 1887 by a partnership of a dentist and a machinist. The idea of delegating work to such laboratories was slow to catch on before World War II, when many dental technicians were trained to provide services at scattered military bases and on ships. In 1940, there were about 2,700 commercial dental laboratories in the United States; there were more than 6,700 in 2014 (although the number has declined steadily since 2000). Their average size has remained small—only about half a dozen full-time workers per laboratory. A growing number of technicians are employed directly by dentists, most notably specialists in prosthodontics and orthodontics, to staff private dental laboratories.

At first, dental laboratory technicians were trained on the job, but formal training programs are now the best way to prepare. In 1951, the American Dental Association began to accredit two-year postsecondary programs in dental technology. Currently there are 17 accredited programs offering such training.

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