Inside the Gates: JBER dental lab jumps to new tech
The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson dental lab has started using computers, scans and special machines to start milling tooth replacements in-house, rather than make them by hand or order them from the Lower 48.
"Lately we've really been pushing the idea of a same-day crown," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Longar, a dental lab technician. "The patient comes in the morning, the dentist cuts back all the rotten portions of the tooth and from there they take a scan."
The dentist scans the person's teeth and with that scan, the technicians can make a new tooth.
"That way we can get them back flying or whatever mission they need to do," Longar said.
The process used to take days to weeks, taking service members away from their duties for longer. The lab's newer setup has been in place for about two years.
Now, instead of the patient wearing a temporary for days or weeks, which can become quite uncomfortable, the patient can now leave the clinic with a new crown. If someone needs dental work, they can't deploy or do thier job.
"They can't deploy because they are not medically ready," said another technician, Sgt. Gabriele Tulao. "It's what we do to do our mission, to make sure they are medically ready to deploy and fit to fight."
Dental issues can cause airmen to be considered Class 3 cases -- meaning they are grounded and can't get into a plane or be deployed.
"Instead of being grounded for 14 days," Longar said, "now we can get them back into the airplane in half a day. If there's a problem we can fix it."
Not only do the staff of six at the clinic design tooth replacements specifically to patients' needs, they also hand-paint the glass, porcelain or crystal replacements to match patients' current teeth.
"It's kind of like arts and crafts," Tulao said. "Patients' teeth come in all kinds of colors."
Creating the perfect bite, to protect replacements, also takes fine work.
"We have to create the restoration in a way that the contact isn't too strong causing it to shatter," Longar said. "Also, it needs to give them enough force to chew."
It means a lot to the staff to get the job done quickly.
"Here in Alaska, we try to do everything in-house, because shipping something to the Lower 48 and waiting two weeks or longer to get it back, that's really tough," Longar said. "That means our people are unable to fill their job for that time."
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