Dental Ceramist Job Description
Working in dental offices, dental ceramists plan, prepare, and produce dental prostheses such as crowns and dentures. They mostly work independently in a lab under the direction of a dentist, but they also assist patients during the planning and fitting processes. Dental ceramists often complete more basic tasks at the start of their career and see their responsibilities become more complex with experience. This specialized dental laboratory technician position fits someone who has previous dental experience or training and who works well with their hands. Dental ceramists can work part or full time. They experience a lot of bending and standing on the job.
Dental Ceramist Duties and Responsibilities
No two dental ceramists are exactly alike, as specific skills vary from employer to employer. However, after analyzing online job postings, we identified several core duties and responsibilities common to the job:
After the dentist prescribes a specific treatment, a dental ceramist meets with the patient to help match the tooth shade for crowns, bridges, veneers, and other prostheses. This helps determine the custom shade to use and potential dental materials that fit the patient's needs.
Design Dental Prostheses
Dental ceramists use dental impressions of a patient’s bite to capture a specific tooth or the entire mouth. They also use intraoral cameras to take pictures inside the patient's mouth, as well as 3D-modeling software to fine tune the design to fit the patient's bite and tooth arrangement.
Prepare and Mix Dental Materials
Using prescription information and detailed measurements for the prosthetic requested, dental ceramists measure and mix materials such as plaster, acrylic, wax, and porcelain. They then put these materials into the molds created from their designs.
Make Crowns, Dentures, Veneers, and Bridges
Depending on what they need to make, dental ceramists may use 3D printers, furnaces, and various hand-shaping tools to turn materials into dental prostheses. For example, some offices use 3D printers to make crowns and veneers quickly, while others use special machines to heat and cure materials for dentures and bridges.
Finalize and Fit Dental Prostheses
Dental ceramists do some final glazing, polishing, and cleaning to make the color and shape of the prosthesis appropriate for the patient. They also fit the prosthesis for the patient and make any adjustments necessary for bite or comfort.
Dental Ceramist Skills and Qualifications
In addition to understanding the use of dental prostheses in cosmetic and reparative dentistry, dental ceramists should have some experience in the dental field and a high school diploma. Employers also like to see dental ceramists with these skills:
- Knowledge of dental materials and tools – they must know how to select appropriate dental materials for different treatments and use machines and hand tools to create a finished product that fits the patient
- Computer-aided modeling – with 3D printing becoming more common in dental offices, dental ceramists need up-to-date computer-aided modeling skills to create accurate digital models for printing
- Dexterity – they need dexterity to precisely use both power and hand dental tools to shape crowns, bridges, veneers, and dentures for patients
- Interpersonal skills – while they spend a lot of time alone in the lab, dental ceramists still need to work well with people and interact effectively with dental professionals and patients
- Attention to detail – since dental prosthetics need to perfectly fit the patient, comply with the prescription, and match the tooth color well, keen attention to detail helps dental ceramists work precisely
Tools of the Trade
Dental ceramists often use these tools:
- Molding tools (impression trays, wax bite rims)
- Shaping tools (abrasive blasters, electric hand pieces, files, picks)
- Dental-modeling software (Smile Designer Pro, 3Shape, Dental Wings)
Dental Ceramist Education and Training
Education requirements for dental ceramists vary by dental office. While most employers train ceramists on the job for several weeks, they do prefer candidates with dental laboratory technology knowledge earned through an associate's degree program or other short-term training. Dental laboratory technician programs cover the specifics of dental anatomy, materials, and appliances, with some field training through a practicum. Some employers also like to see candidates with the Certified Dental Technician credential offered by the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.
Dental Ceramist Salary and Outlook
Dental ceramists, classified as dental lab technicians by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), make a median annual salary of about $38,700. The 10th percentile of dental ceramists receive $23,350, and the highest earners make over $63,480. Dental offices often offer healthcare plans, paid time off, and a variety of retirement options, such as 401(k) plans with company matching.
The BLS expects this dental occupation to see fast job growth at 13 percent – almost twice the 7 percent average for all occupations. Patients will demand more dental work as prosthetics become more affordable and material costs go down. Dental offices will especially need more ceramists to help supply the aging population with dentures and crowns.
Ready to get started as a dental ceramist? We've gathered these useful resources to get you started:
American Dental Association – the AMA serves as the country's leading industry resource for the dental profession. It offers industry news and research, information about dental education and career development, and membership benefits for dental ceramists and other professionals
Basics of Dental Technology: A Step by Step Approach – this guide uses an instructional approach with detailed visuals to teach dental technicians to prepare, create, and install dental appliances. It also focuses on health guidelines to keep patients and technicians safe during the process
National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology – offering the Certified Dental Technician certification and a directory of educational resources, NBC helps dental ceramists validate their skills and learn best practices. It also offers the Certified Dental Laboratory certification for dental offices that want to stand out in the industry
Dental Ceramics: Microstructure, Properties, and Degradation – both aspiring and working ceramists can use this guide to learn more about the properties of materials used for dental prosthetics and how they break down over time. This information can help dental professionals choose the right solutions for patients and improve the longevity of dental prostheses