Dental Laboratories

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

A dental lab is a manufacturing facility that produces dental restorations that have been prescribed by a dentist. Dental laboratories create crowns, bridges, implant restorations, dentures and orthodontic appliances. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are 10,000 dental laboratories operating in the U.S. employing 33,600 dental technicians.

The National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) is a trade association representing more than 1600 labs and technicians. It is the unified voice of the dental laboratory industry that supports dentistry and serves the public interest by promoting high standards. NADL supports federal and state regulations to assure patients that their restorations are safe regardless of where they are manufactured. They work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state dental officials and the dental industry to support:

  • Mandatory certification of continuing education of dental technicians.
  • Registration of all dental labs with the FDA.
  • Mandatory documentation of all materials included in a restoration as well as the point of origin (country and lab).
  • Mandatory documentation of all of these items in the patient's dental record.

When lead was found in crowns made in China, NADL launched a website to provide consumers with information.

American dental laboratories come in all shapes and sizes. Single-technician labs still exist but larger labs are becoming more common. Some American dental “labs” don't actually do their own manufacturing. They are more like brokers that accept orders from dentists, then send the work to actual dental labs either domestically or internationally for manufacturing.

Chinese dental labs manufacturing for export to the U.S. are huge operations employing thousands of technicians who may work 24 hour shifts. These labs are able to churn out large volumes of work in short periods of time at a fraction of the cost that American labs charge.

While a growing number of dental offices are importing dental labwork, the FDA reports that 80-90% of the work is manufactured in the U.S. largely by family-owned dental labs who employ less than ten laboratory technicians.

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