I just discovered that the last college I attended, Indian River State College, no longer offers the degree I earned there: Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. This is very sad news. It was the last school in Florida to offer that program. Now, if you’re a Floridian and want to study this subject, the closest schools would be in San Antonio, Texas or Detroit, Michigan. In fact, there are only seven colleges left in the country that offer this degree. Seven.
Why should you care?
First of all, let me clarify what Dental Lab Techs do. They are not, repeat, not, dental hygienists. They don’t clean your teeth. Many of them never come in direct contact with another person’s mouth (at least, not in a professional sense). The majority don’t work in a dentist’s office. They usually work in labs, sometimes one man operations, sometimes large assembly line type outfits, to fabricate dentures, retainers, crowns, night guards, bridges and other dental appliances.
There’s a great need for Dental Lab Techs, as 40 percent of them are expected to retire in the next decade. This career has a faster than average job growth projection, as an aging population has a greater need for dental appliances, and baby boomers visit dentists more often than previous generations did.
Many labs are now resorting to on the job training, and there’s no problem with that if it’s done well. But without an educational system, there are no core standards and there will be no uniformity in the field. (Field trained techs are often not taught basic oral anatomy, for example.) It also makes it much harder for these highly skilled individuals to be considered professionals, and therefore demand adequate compensation. This, in turn, will discourage people from pursuing this career.
More and more appliances, therefore, are being shipped overseas to be fabricated. This is a problem for you on a number of levels. There is no quality control. There have been reports of appliances in third world countries containing toxic substances. The last place you want to encounter lead or radioactive material, for example, is in your mouth. Also, some of the dental impressions your dentist takes of your mouth are heat sensitive and therefore don’t ship well. This means that the device you get back from some far flung location is quite likely not going to fit as well as one created in a local lab would have. The end result is pain for you and/or an appliance that does not function properly. I strongly suggest you ask your dentist where your appliance will be coming from, and urge him or her to source local labs.
Why are Dental Laboratory Technology schools disappearing? The equipment required to adequately teach this subject is extremely expensive. And in order to be certified by the American Dental Association, schools have to maintain a very low student to teacher ratio. From the standpoint of a college, this means more cost in terms of equipment and salary, and very little return in terms of tuition. Can you blame them for not wanting to shoulder this burden?
To be honest, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. But if you don’t want outrageously expensive dental appliances that are poorly made and potentially dangerous, we had better come up with one, and soon.
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