The Smell of Artwork
When you first step into a dental lab, you smell the odor of craftsmanship. Paraffin, ceramics, acrylics, porcelain, plaster, working kilns and heated metals combine to create a scent that is not unpleasant, but an indicator of work – an amazing amount of work – in rapid progress. We recently had the opportunity to visit the dental labs of Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland, to take a look at the work of dental technicians, the craftspeople who create the types of appliances used every day by the practice of the Sacramento Dentistry Group.
Trinity College, so old that it was established by Queen Elizabeth the First, is Ireland’s only school for dental technicians. Here the students, and their professional teachers, work alongside the university dental clinic to craft dentures, crowns, bridges, implants and all the wide variety of appliances necessary to ensure smiles and the vital ability to eat! After graduation, the technicians are a valued commodity to dentists across the island to fulfill the dental needs of their many clients.
No matter what the appliance, the technician’s work generally starts with an impression of your upper and lower jaw. From this exact representation of your mouth, a technician can create an entirely new set of teeth (dentures) or a crown that will fill a single gap in a row of teeth, perhaps even better than the original tooth. While some of the work is completed by computer-aided machines that literally carve out a new tooth from a block of material, most technicians favor creating artificial teeth by hand.
“I knew I wanted to work in dentistry,” says Christiana Tomita, a graduate of the Trinity College program, “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 describes the work of a technician as a combination of “art with an attention to detail.” Her favorite task is creating 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, entering his third year in the program, agrees that art is involved in 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.” When you consider the use of gold and silver for crowns is still popular in many parts of the world, and is a skill practiced in the dental labs, you immediately recognize the crossover suggested by Christian. “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!”
All over the dental lab you find impressions and molds of teeth from various patients. Since much of the work involves waiting – ceramics are fired in kilns, acrylics are heated and cooled, metal is melted, poured and formed – a technician works on multiple patients’ needs simultaneously. Here’s where the attention to detail is paramount. A glance at the various molds also demonstrates the truth that every set of teeth is different. The challenge and variety inherent in the dental technician’s job is readily apparent.
Yvette Kavanagh, one of the school’s instructors, a published researcher in dental appliances and a professional technician for some fifteen years, states that this variety is what makes the work so interesting. “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.” She proceeds to explain the work on her lab bench and points to each mold and impression and gives a detailed description of the patient’s needs. Here you see that the technician is just as concerned about the patient as the dentist and recognizes that their work goes a long way towards ensuring the patient’s health and comfort. In the words of Christian Tomita, “If I make a patient’s appliance properly, it might last them a lifetime! That is my goal as a dental technician.”
Our work at the Sacramento Dentistry Group could not succeed without the skilled assistance provided by the manufacturers of the dental appliances we install each and every day. Through their art and attention to detail, dental technicians help us to create beautiful smiles and maintain optimal dental health. As dentists, we appreciate their work and encourage you to put faith in their meticulous craft.
Photo Credits: E. & J. Schneidereit