Smile Team Yokota

Uncompleted dentures sit in a vise to be worked on by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Uncompleted dentures sit in a vise to be worked on by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The dental lab makes various custom oral appliances such as: dentures, retainers, teeth and prosthetics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Fujio Ishikawa, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, prepares dental molds, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Fujio Ishikawa, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, prepares dental molds, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Ishikawa has over 30 years of experience as a dental lab technician and his vast experience and skills make him a valued recourse to the dental lab at Yokota. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Dental molds sit side by side for comparison, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Dental molds sit side by side for comparison, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The molds show the original teeth on the left and the fully reconstructed teeth on the right made by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab for a patient who needed a full mouth rehabilitation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

A mold of the original top row of teeth, (left), sits for comparison and approval against a newly made set, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

A mold of the original top row of teeth, (left), sits for comparison and approval against a newly made set, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The molds show the original teeth on the left and the fully reconstructed teeth on the right which were made by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab for a patient who needed a full mouth rehabilitation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Uncompleted dentures sit in a vise to be worked on by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Uncompleted dentures sit in a vise to be worked on by the 374th Dental Squadron’s dental lab, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The dental lab makes various custom oral appliances such as: dentures, retainers, teeth and prosthetics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, digitally designs new teeth with computer added design software, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, digitally designs new teeth with computer added design software, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The software lets dental lab technicians quickly image and map out a tooth for quick precision molding in a computer aided manufacturing machine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

A ceramic core sits inside computer aided manufacturing machine used by the 374th Dental Squadron dental lab to make replacement teeth, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

A ceramic core sits inside computer aided manufacturing machine used by the 374th Dental Squadron dental lab to make replacement teeth, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The machine works with computer software to digitally image and map out a tooth for quick precision molding. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, polishes a newly made prosthetic, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, polishes a newly made prosthetic, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The dental lab makes various hand crafted custom oral appliances such as: dentures, retainers, teeth and prosthetics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Fujio Ishikawa, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, prepares dental molds, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Fujio Ishikawa, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, prepares dental molds, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Ishikawa has over 30 years of experience as a dental lab technician and his vast experience and skills make him a valued recourse to the dental lab at Yokota. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Two hand crafted ceramic porcelain on meatal teeth finish curing in an 850 degrees Celsius kilim, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
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Two hand crafted ceramic porcelain on meatal teeth finish curing in an 850 degrees Celsius kilim, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The kilim is used to give the ceramic porcelain teeth the proper strength and further adhere around the meatal core. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, shows a finished hand-crafted ceramic porcelain on meatal tooth and the meatal core, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
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Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, shows a finished hand-crafted ceramic porcelain on meatal tooth and the meatal core, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The dental lab makes various hand crafted custom oral appliances such as: dentures, retainers, teeth and prosthetics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Nobuo Sakamoto, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, molds a wax tooth by hand, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
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Nobuo Sakamoto, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab technician, molds a wax tooth by hand, Jan. 29, 2018, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Sakamoto has over 33 years of experience as a dental lab technician and his vast experience and skills make him a valued recourse to the dental lab at Yokota. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)

Yoktoa Air Base, Japan --

In a single room workshop above the main dentist office, a small shop completes one of the most detailed, artistic and necessary jobs to help many people live a more comfortable and enjoyable life. To put it simply, they make teeth.

When someone gets their tooth knocked out playing ball or simply needs a new retainer, Yokota’s dental lab goes to work creating replacement teeth, retainers, dentures and prosthetics.

“It’s our job to not only ensure what we are making properly fits and functions for the patient, but to also make it match in color, texture and to their personality,” said Master Sgt. Carmen Ellis, 374th Dental Squadron dental lab flight chief. “It’s a forum of art with a very specific purpose.”

The dental lab technicians have many challenging factors to overcome for each patient. The dentist or prosthodontist will write a prescription as detailed as possible of what the patient needs and then gives it to the dental lab. From that slip of paper and without ever meeting the patient the technicians must make the dental appliance to match the patient perfectly.

“Depending on the project we might be working on it for weeks, but there are also emergency situations where we have to get something done while the patient is still in the chair with the doctor,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Holloway, 374 DS dental lab technician. “It is hard, but when you get the perfect fit, the fit that matches the person completely, it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment.”

Yokota’s dental lab works closely with the dentists and prosthodontist to ensure the patient gets what they need.

“Having an in-house dental lab like this is invaluable to a dentist,” said Lt. Col. Amy Mason 374 DS prosthodontist. “Being able to come and talk with them face to face about the needs of specific patients helps us to ensure thigs are done exactly as needed for the patient.”

Many bases that don’t have a full dental lab must send prescriptions to another base to be made. This adds a lot of time to the process and can lead to less than optimal end products that may have to be sent back again for further detailed customization to fit a patient’s needs or desires.

“You can make something that looks absolutely perfect, but when the patient tries it out it might not quite match for a number of reasons,” said Mason. “Making sure the patient is happy with the product is the dental lab techs main goal and stress; and when it fits a patient just right, the dentists make sure to introduce the patient to lab techs who did the work to bring back their smile.”

Part of the dental lab team at Yokota includes two Japanese technicians, Nobuo Sakamoto and Fujio Ishikawa, who have over 60 years of experience between them, and are a great resource for dental lab team.

“Sakamoto and Fujio know so much and they regularly teach us techniques to make us better,” said Holloway “Most bases don’t have civilians with their level of experience and I’m so grateful to work side-by-side with them.”

If you’re skiing and hit a tree, or that fly ball just barely misses the mitt and the next thing you know you’re missing a tooth, members of Team Yokota can count on the dental lab to bring your smile back.