Walk through a dental lab and you will smell the scents of craftwork. Wax, ceramics, acrylics, porcelain, plaster, kilns for heating dental products and forges for melting metals combine to create a distinctive odor. Work is taking place! Molds of teeth, of entire jawlines, copies of patients’ problems waiting for solutions from the team of a dental technician and a qualified dentist occupy available desk space. Right here in our Sacramento office, the Marconi Dental Group has its own dental lab, staffed by Barry LaFond, a master technician. A future article will focus on our own lab, but this summer we had the opportunity to visit the dental labs of Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland. Let’s take a look at how dental technicians are trained to create the oral appliances used every day by practices like the Marconi Dental Group.
Trinity College was established by Queen Elizabeth the First. As Ireland’s only school for dental technicians, it plays an important role in training students for this important career. Together they work alongside the university’s dental school students building crowns, dentures, bridges and implants that recreate smiles and restore the vital ability to eat! Graduating technicians are a valued commodity to dentists all over Ireland. After three years of training, they are ready to start work in any technical lab.
The technician’s work usually starts with an mold of your upper and lower jaw. From this exact cast of your mouth, a technician can create an entirely new set of teeth with dentures or crowns applied to dental implants. They might create a single crown to fill the gap left by a missing tooth, carefully fitting it to match the existing teeth. The goal is to create an appliance that looks natural and even better than the original tooth. Computer-aided machines can carve out a new tooth from a block of material, based on the technician’s input. Most technicians, however, like to create artificial teeth by hand.
“I knew I wanted to work in dentistry,” says Christian Tomita, a Trinity College graduate, “but I didn’t know whether to be a hygienist or a technician. Then I noticed that in order to join the technical school, the description said you had to be interested in ‘artistry.’ Then I knew, that was the program for me.” Tomita believes the technician’s work combines “art with an attention to detail.” Her favorite assignment is making crowns with ceramic material added layer by layer to mimic both the necessary shape of the original tooth and its color.
Tomita’s brother Christian is entering his third and final year in the program. He agrees that art is essential to dental craftwork. “If I wanted to become a jeweler, I could. The work with metals, with molds, it’s all the same skills used in making jewelry. We just use these skills to make teeth.” Gold and silver crowns are still popular in many parts of the world, so you immediately recognize the truth of Christian’s statement. “I think that when I finally decide to get married, I will make the engagement ring myself. All I need to do is find a stone, and I can create the ring and set it in the lab!”
Much of the technician’s work involves waiting – ceramics are heated in kilns, acrylics are melted and cooled, metal is liquified, poured and formed, porcelain is shaped with heat and presses – so a technician works on multiple patients’ orders simultaneously. Attention to detail is essential to keep things organized and appliances properly shaped. Since every set of teeth is different, the technician’s skills are applied to meet every client’s individual needs.
Yvette Kavanagh, a Trinity College instructor, is a published researcher in dental appliances and a professional technician for over fifteen years. She believes the variety is what makes the work so fascinating. “Every day I wake up excited to go to work and it has been that way for me since I first started as a dental technician.” Explaining the projects on her lab bench, she points to each mold and impression and proceeds to describe each patient’s requirements. It’s obvious that the technician is just as concerned about the patient as the dentist and realizes that their effort is a step towards enduring health and comfort for the patient. As Christian Tomita states, “If I make a patient’s appliance properly, it might last them a lifetime! That is my goal as a dental technician.”
The work of the Marconi Dental Group in creating dental implants, repairing broken teeth, completing full mouth restorations and installing crowns requires the skilled assistance provided by our own dental lab and the manufacturers that help keep it supplied. Their craftsmanship and detail means we can create fabulous smiles and restore dental health. If you require the services of a dental lab, we encourage you to contact our Sacramento dental office to meet with our dentist and technician team.