Dental X-Ray Technician: Job Duties & Career Requirements

A dental x-ray technician, also known as a dental radiologic technician or technologist, is the dentist office's first line of defense for a patient's oral health. Read further to learn about the education requirements, salary and employment outlook for this profession.

Career Definition for Dental X-Ray Technicians

The dental x-ray technician first covers the patient with a lead apron to prevent x-ray exposure, has the patient bite down on plastic to immobilize the jaw, and finally takes film or digital images of a patient's teeth and surrounding soft tissue. The pictures detect cavities and tooth decay as well as locate wisdom teeth and impacted teeth, abscesses, and other problems of the mouth. The tech also devises plans on filling significant cavities, performing root canal surgery, placing dental implants, or removing troublesome teeth.

Education Associate's degree, certification exam
Job Duties Photograph patients' teeth, determine best course of action for treatment
Median Salary (2017)* $58,440 (all radiologic technologists)
Job Growth (2016-2026)* 12% (all radiologic technologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education and Credentials

Once dental x-ray techs graduate, they take the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists certification examination ('the board exam'). Most states require licenses as well. As of 2018, according to the American Society of Radiologic Technologists website, www.asrt.org, 42 states require a radiography license, and 32 offer 'limited' licenses, meaning a tech only works on the body area that the license allows, which could apply to x-ray techs.

Required Skills

The tech's basic skills are developing film and choosing the machine's optimal placement and exposure levels for the best photographs. Also, x-ray techs must protect the patients from radiation through the use of shields or by reducing the x-ray beam's exposure.

Salary and Career Potential

Reliable, sourced salary information for a dental x-ray tech is hard to come by. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) data published in May 2017 stated that the median annual salary earned by radiologic technologists was $58,440. The BLS also said that jobs in radiologic technology are projected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 12% from 2016-2026.

Alternate Career Options

Similar career options in this field include:

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Normally earning an associate's degree or a certificate, these professionals create images of patients' organs and tissues using sound waves. Diagnostic medical sonographers need to be licensed in a few states, and many employers look for sonographers who hold professional certification. A much faster than average employment growth of 23% was anticipated by the BLS for these positions from 2016 to 2026. The median annual wage reported by the BLS in 2017 was $71,410.

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

These technologists usually earn associate's or bachelor's degrees in nuclear medicine technology and are required to be licensed in select states. This job involves administering radioactive drugs and scanning patients' bodies to create images. Faster than average job growth of 10% was predicted from 2016 to 2026, and the median annual salary for nuclear medicine technologists was $75,660 as of 2017.


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