Does certification REALLY matter for dental technicians?

August 11, 2015

While people go into dental lab work for different reasons, ultimately it is still a job, and everyone wants to advance and be respected for their work. Does having a CDT certification matter in that respect?

The arguments for and against getting a CDT after your name.

Earning a certification in one’s career seems like a surefire way to secure trust and respect, and be viewed as a skilled professional. For dental lab technicians, a Certified Dental Technician (CDT) certification from the National Board of Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology is usually seen as a mark of achievement.

However, not everyone agrees that certification is necessary to prove one’s worth. There are those who believe that a CDT is not worth the time, effort, or money.

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We spoke with lab technicians on both sides of the issue.

Dan Elfring holds a Master CDT certification. Master CDTs are the highest level of certification and represent less than one percent of all CDTs. Elfring is an in-house technician at Pickle Prosthodontics in Colorado Springs, Colo. and is also a CDT examiner.

Renzo Chiappe is a dental technician and owner of Chiappe Dental Lab in Covington, La. Chiappe believes that certification is not necessary to prove one’s mettle as a dental technician.

Professional recognition

The foremost reason for earning certification is to show your level of skill and knowledge, exhibiting to others that you have reached a high level of mastery in the craft.

Chiappe notes, however, that your work itself stands as testament to your skills.

“We are in a free market,” Chiappe says. “That means you have to prove yourself, and you have to prove your value in how much you charge. I work with certain people because they value my skill. They value what I can bring to their office. I don’t work with the people who don’t see a value in my service.”

In addition to the professional merits of certification, Elfring notes that by achieving certification, technicians achieve their own sense of accomplishment, as well as being able to show it to others.

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“It’s like the Nike logo. I tell [other technicians], ‘Just do it,’ and then see how you feel after you’ve completed it,” Elfring advises. “I have some friends that have been technicians for a number of years and are actually at the top of their game, and when they actually took the CDT certification and passed it, it made them feel a whole lot different. Until you take it and see what the process is and pass it, you’ll never know what that feeling is like. And if they take their job as a professional, like I do, it shows that you’re taking your job seriously-for anyone you work for: a small lab, a doctor, yourself.”

Next page: Can a CDT help you market your lab?

 

Marketing

When potential employers or new clients are seeking a lab technician, certification is a quick way to substantiate their skill level.

“When you sign up for meeting or LMT Lab Day, when you go to register, they give you the designations, and if you don’t have anything, you’re walking around like you could be just a salesperson or anybody,” Elfring says. “But just having the designation, I would certainly think that it does market yourself. I know in my job description it doesn’t say ‘required,’ but it says ‘highly desired.’”

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Some labs value the certification-and the knowledge and skills that come with it-so highly that they will even pay for technicians to get it.

“Many of the labs that I’ve run into actually pay for the certification for their technicians,” says Elfring. “It tells me that it must be valuable to them if they’re willing to pay for it; otherwise, in these tight markets, they wouldn’t be spending the money if they didn’t get a return on their investment.”

On the other hand, Chiappe says referrals provide all the marketing and new work opportunities that he needs.

“My work is word-of-mouth,” Chiappe says. “If somebody wants to work with me, we are being recommended both ways. He will be recommended to me and I will be recommended to him. If I don’t like how they approach dentistry, we are just not going to work together. I don’t work with anybody who just has money. I work with people who share my passion for dentistry.”

Passing a test

For Chiappe, the CDT certification doesn’t really mean much-he says that simply passing the tests doesn’t make a technician any more qualified than those who do not.

“Certification, in my view, is just a club,” Chiappe notes. “You’re just a member of a club. They have a certain questionnaire, you have to do things a certain way, and it’s more directed to being a production technician. They test you on your speed. You have to do things a certain way. That means you have to do things their way. I think that is the wrong way. The way I approach dentistry is completely different. I go to the office to try my work. There’s aggravation, and they charge me $350 a year for something that is, in my view, useless.” [Editor's note: According to the NADL, the annual fee for a CDT certificate renewal is $160]

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On the other side, Elfring says testing is not at all an easy thing to pass, and those who do have proved their worth.

“I have an advantage because I’m also an examiner, so I see what goes into the exam, and I can assure you that anyone who takes it and passes has demonstrated that they have the minimum skill level required to become a CDT,” Elfring says. “Not everyone passes the exam. I know there’s there’s a big contention among people who don’t want to take it, for that reason. They’ve got a job, they are very good, their doctor doesn’t necessarily look at them as a CDT, but as a very good technician, and so they don’t see the value in having that.”

Next page: The real merits of certification ...

 

What’s the merit of certification?

While people go into dental lab work for different reasons, ultimately it is still a job, and everyone wants to advance and be respected for their work. Does having a CDT certification matter in that respect?

Elfring says certification is a way for the skilled professional to further their professional standing.

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“I know a lot of people that that have it continue to maintain the certification. That must say that it’s valuable to them, otherwise they would drop it,” Elfring says. “I grew up in the military system where you do everything you can to try and make yourself stand out so that you can get promoted, and in some laboratories, I’m sure the same thing’s true. If they’re going to be looking for someone to lead a department or section, they’re going to be looking for someone who stands out in some way or another. Certainly having gone through the process to demonstrate that you’re knowledgeable and skilled enough to pass the CDT exam is a foundation that you can’t really argue with. Versus, if you’re comparing two good technicians, and neither is certified, who gets promoted?”

Chiappe says technicians should be judged by the quality of their work, not the letters after their name.

“That is the problem for me with certification,” Chiappe says. “Even though they’re certified, you cannot guarantee the quality of that technician. They can only tell you that technician passed the test and that technician goes to a number of seminars during the year to maintain his certification. They cannot guarantee the quality of work that a free market can.”

What do you think? Does certification matter for lab technicians? Weigh in below!