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Ryan Hamm is the Editorial Director for Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics.
Whether the millions of people who sit in a dentists’ chair each year know it or not, dental technicians are a key part of the workflow that gets restorations into their mouths.
Those numbers are from the most recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (and don’t reflect self-employed dental technicians, so the actual number is likely somewhat higher). The report drills down into some great data about the dental lab world. Want to know how much lab technicians make, on average? Want to know where most technicians call home? Want to know where dental technicians make the most? Read on …
How much are dental lab technicians making?
First, a quick look at the macro-level: In the United States, of the 35,320 people who identified as “dental laboratory technician,” the average annual wage was $40,140. That’s over $7,000 less than the national average yearly wage among all job-holders. On average, dental technicians made $19.30 per hour, which is more than three dollars less than the national average (at the top of the list, anesthesiologists made a stunning $118.42 per hour on average!).
Compared to the rest of the dental team, dental technicians fall somewhere near the middle- to lower-end. At the top, dentists make a little over $82 per hour on average (around $171,000 annually), while Dental Assistants make (on average) $17.43 per hour or $36,260 annually. Dental hygienists make more than dental technicians, with a hygienist making $34.60 per hour on average (which works out to $71,970 annually).
Interestingly, dental technicians who work in dentists’ offices make a bit more than the national average-$19.69 per hour ($40,960 annually). Technicians who work in a more traditional lab setting and say their industry is “medical equipment and supplies manufacturing” actually make less than the national average for dental technicians, at $19.03 per hour.
So where are dental technicians making the most money-and where are they just barely getting paid?
Next page: Where in the U.S.A. is the money?
Where all the lab techs at?
California has (by far) the most dental technicians of any state in the United States. 4,600 technicians work there, compared with 2,900 in Florida and 2,200 in Texas, the second and third most, respectively. Of California’s nearly 5,000 dental technicians, over 1,000 of them work in the Los Angeles area. The region with the second-highest density of dental technicians is Atlanta, though Georgia does not rank in the top five of number of dental technicians. Comparatively, North Dakota only has 170 dental technicians state-wide, and Montana only has 180!
There is not necessarily a correlation between how many dental technicians there are and how much they are paid. For instance, though Alaska ranks in the bottom 10 states in terms of number of dental technicians (only 70 report living in The Last Frontier!), the technicians laboring in Alaska make, on average, $26.05, nearly seven dollars above the national average. On average, dental technicians in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Montana also make significantly more than the national average. For instance, in the Rochester, N.Y. area, dental technicians make an average hourly wage of $28.84 (an average annual salary of just under $60,000).
An industry in transition
So what does all of this mean? Well, the good news-salaries in 2014 were higher than in 2013! There was about a $1,500 increase in annual salary for dental technicians. And in the five years before the most recent survey, salaries for dental technicians have risen roughly $2,500.
But there’s also some not-so-good news. If the trends are accurate, the U.S. government is also reporting shrinkage in terms of the number of dental technicians out there. In 2009, there were 40,480 dental technicians. And in 2005, there were over 45,000 dental laboratory technicians in the United States. That number fell to 36,790 in 2012-2013, and fell to 2014’s 35,320.
Next page: Dissecting the data ...
Now, that’s not necessarily bad news-that could mean people retired, or it could be a sign of increasing mergers in the industry that come with transitions for some technicians to managerial or specialty roles. But it does suggest there are fewer technicians than before-which might mean there’s more work to be had, or that there isn’t enough work to support the number of laboratory technicians. Over a five-year period (2009-2014), the number of general dentists rose from 86,270 to 97,990, so there should still be dental demand, but perhaps the advent of in-office capabilities and other clinic-side technologies put the number of dental technicians in flux. The next few years will be telling.
Additionally, it’s interesting to see that Montana and Alaska both remain on the highest-paying list for dental laboratory technicians from 2009-2014. Perhaps there’s a need there that isn’t quite being met-there are so few technicians that pay seems to be higher in those states than elsewhere with very high concentration of laboratories. Check out the full report to see where your region ranks for pay-and if there are other regions close by that might have greater demand.
Overall, this snapshot of the wage and labor landscape is a mixed bag for the dental laboratory industry. It shows an industry working to reverse a decline, trying to stop a loss of 10,000 industry jobs in the last decade. It also shows an industry that’s growing slowly in terms of pay. Finally, it shows the lab technicians position on the dental team is somewhere in the middle in terms of wages.
The lab industry will need to grapple with these realities, and figure out what equipment, services and education might be necessary to stem the tide of job constriction and to continue the growth of salaries. With some continued hard work, and the rapidly growing number of dentists, perhaps dental laboratory technicians can reclaim the market and remind the entire dental team how valuable technician work really is.
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