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    Why you should become an in-office technician

    It’s a growing field that promises benefits for technician and doctor alike.

    Dental labs, like so many other parts of the dental world, are rapidly going through changes.

    From cutting-edge digital design to the growing accessibility of chairside fabrication, the lines between lab and office are quickly becoming blurred. But one thing is still clear: Technicians will always be the experts when it comes to dental fabrication.

    As labs and offices move closer together — and as both become increasingly complex — many clinicians and technicians have realized that the key to success is to draw closer together. For some, this looks like increased collaboration through the process of digital impressions and case design, commenting and tweaking cases well before fabrication.

    Related article: The state of dental technology in 2018

    For a small — but growing — number of technicians and clinicians, the easiest way to collaborate is to join forces in a single office. These in-office technicians work side-by-side with dentists, allowing for seamless collaboration all the way from patient to fabrication.

    Michael T. Morris, CDT, FAACD, is an in-office dental lab technician in Lexington, Kentucky-based Arnold Dental. He sums up his experiences working in an office this way: “better than I could have imagined.” For Morris and many others, in-office work offers a variety of benefits and optimizations not found elsewhere.

    The numbers

    According to the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL), the number of technicians moving into dental offices has slowly increased over the last few years.

    In 2016, five percent of the technicians NADL surveyed worked in a dental office. In 2017, that number increased to 6.2 percent, while in 2018 it jumped up to 6.7 percent of technicians. Additionally, nearly one in ten (9.3 percent) small labs (those with between one and nine employees), were located in a dental office in 2018. This is up from 7.8 percent in 2017 and 5.6 percent, indicating that small labs are making the move to the dental office.

    Obviously, those numbers represent are relatively small when compared to the overall number of technicians. However, the data indicate that more and more technicians and practice owners see this as a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Salary data for lab technicians working in officesFig. 1 Click to expandAt the same time, the number of dental lab technicians in the country has been shrinking for years. In 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 37,520 technicians. In 2017, the most recent year available, that number dropped to 35,630. The growing number of in-office technicians may just be a simple reflection of the need for lab technicians to define their value in an increasingly competitive market — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of benefits to the arrangement.

    The benefits of the in-office lab

    One big reason technicians might be moving to offices is perhaps the most obvious: money. On average, technicians in offices make nearly $1,000 more per year than the average dental lab technician. In 2017, according to the BLS, technicians working in offices earned $43,000 compared to dental technicians as a whole, who earned $41,990 (Fig. 1). While only an increase of about 2.5 percent, the lure of bigger paycheck could be an attractive option for technicians struggling with low wages.

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