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.