Monday, May 25, 2009

Need for Dental Tech Students Increases

story and photo by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Local dentist E. Preston Kaenel, D.D.S., says the needs for trained dental technicians, often community-college graduates, will soon dramatically increase. He’s holding teeth processed in new computerized lab equipment.

“Rapidly expanding career opportunities for community college graduates are opening up in the field of dental technicians, as a result of new, state-of-the-art lab equipment,” says dentist Dr. E. Preston Kaenel, 37. A native Californian, he earned his B.S. degree from U.C.S.D., and graduated from the U.S.C. School of Dentistry.

That new computerized equipment is the advanced Chairside Economical Restorations of Es-thetic Ceramic lab system — “CEREC,” for short. It makes one-visit appointments possible for common dental procedures like crowns and large fillings.

Many people fear their semi-yearly visit to the dentist. The prospects of a cavity or need for a crown can be daunting. It usually means making several appointments with your dentist, but no longer.

The $130,000 CEREC process allows a dentist to treat patients in just one visit.

Most dentists send their crown replacements to a lab to have the actual crown constructed. Now, with CEREC, dentists have their state-of-the-art lab in their offices.

The result is that more dental technicians, who are often community-college graduates, are needed to operate that equipment.

To make a crown (which normally takes at least two visits to your dentist) using CEREC, the dentist first uses a tiny camera to make a digital image of the tooth in the patient’s mouth, according to Dr. Kaenel.

That digital image is then fed into a computer, which does the modeling that will eventually become the new restoration or crown.

“As much as two-thirds of a tooth can be restored” with this new, high-tech equipment, says the young dentist.

The digitalized image of the modeled tooth is then fed into a computer, which does the modeling that will eventually become the new restoration or crown.

“As much as two-thirds of a tooth can be restored” with this new high-tech equipment, says Dr. Kaenel. “Or I can restore as little as the smallest filling.”

The digitalized image of the modeled tooth then goes to a mill, where the new crown is ground from tiny polychromatic blocks.

“Some dentists don’t want to do this lab work, and that means more jobs for trained dental technicians,” Dr. Kaenel said.

When some extreme dental problems are involved, and only the facilities of a large commercial lab can do the work, Dr. Kaenel says the equipment also allows him to quickly send a digitalized image of a tooth to the lab, speeding up the process for the patient.

This new dental equipment is especially important to dentists practicing in small towns where the nearest lab may be in a big city many miles away.

“I was in a small town in Minnesota, population no more than 20,000. There were no dental labs there. All the lab work for the local dentist had to be shipped to Minneapolis. With this new equipment, that dentist could have his own lab on premises,” Dr. Kaenel explained.

After the crown (restoration, etc.) comes out of the grinder, it goes into a small high-tech oven. It looks like a macro-version of a ceramic potter’s oven.

The oven can cook the crown at temperatures that shoot up to 1,200 degrees Celsius. “We usually fire at around 850° C. (about 1,600° F.),” Dr. Kaenel said.

Being a younger dentist, he likes having professional “toys” to work with, and uses the com-plex CEREC computer equipment about three days of the week, and sometimes three times a day. So far, he has provided patients with crowns in only one appointment for 52 times, since acquiring the advanced equipment just two months ago.

“Typically, we’re a very conservative profession,” Dr. Kaenel added. “Dentists personally often don’t take to new computerized advances in equipment. But our office is ‘ahead of the curve’. …

“Beginning in 2010, there will be some dramatic changes in the role of dental technicians or assistants in dentist’s offices,” he reported.

They will be authorized to do many of the procedures in a patient’s mouth that traditionally only a dentist was allowed to do, under state law.

“This state-of-the-art technology will result in the need for more highly trained dental technicians,” Dr. Kaenel said.