Starting the conversation

March 23, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 3

It’s no secret that the general public has almost no understanding of the work done by dental technicians. Most people don’t realize their dentist works with an outside expert when crafting their crowns, dentures or other potentially life-changing prosthetics.

It’s no secret that the general public has almost no understanding of the work done by dental technicians. Most people don’t realize their dentist works with an outside expert when crafting their crowns, dentures or other potentially life-changing prosthetics.

For experienced technician Jose Walter, just how far off the public’s radar the dental laboratory industry actually is hit home when he typed, “who makes teeth” into a Yahoo! search and discovered that none of the top results even come close to identifying the role dental lab technicians play in the process. Now he hopes to change that by raising the profile of what dental technicians do.

“A lot of people don’t know about us and what we do,” he said. “I think it’s really important to let people know what we do, because with everything that’s going on, If we want changes, we have to go out and do something.”

Realizing the disconnect

The fact that the public doesn’t know much about what dental labs do is a problem for both labs and the public, Walter said. He believes patients deserve the best possible care and to be fully informed of their restorative options. Without that information, they can’t make the best decision for themselves.

Walter likens a patient in need of a dental restoration to a customer looking at a new car. When planning to spend thousands of dollars on a vehicle, smart consumers research the options, choose features they want and can afford, and come away with the best car that fits their budgets. With dental restorations, Walter believes a more informed public would have a better idea of what’s available to them and thus would be empowered to make better decisions.

“I think if change is going to happen we have to go to the general public. They’re the end user and they should know what it is we do and what options they have,” he said.

The lack of visibility of the work technicians do only serves to devalue the industry, and this is certainly evidenced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s recent reclassification of dental lab technician to the unskilled labor category. That shift was something shocking to Walter who started working in a lab’s model department while in high school, learned the trade at the bench and has worked in a variety of labs for much of his professional life.

When faced with a problem, Walter said he has always looked to find the best solution, and has invented a number of products, such as the W.O.W. articulator, during his career. The issue of the industry being largely invisible is another one of those problems he hopes to help solve. While he’s not sure dental labs can change things from inside the industry simply by working with dentists, he hopes he can use the pride many technicians take in their work to get the public interested in what they do.

“I now think the general public can be taught to demand better dentistry. I have an idea to educate the general public in a fashionable, non-intrusive way…and with the help of my fellow dental lab technicians,” he said.

Enter Bam! Dental Products

With that in mind, Walter created his latest company Bam! Dental Products and launched a line of T-shirts, hats and other apparel that he refers to as “dental lab tech gear.” The current line-up includes shirts with slogans such as “Lab is good” and “Making teeth, it’s what I do.”

The gear is something of an icebreaker for the general public, and a way for technicians to invite the public into their world. While a bumper sticker can communicate an opinion to other motorists, a T-shirt is more personal and invites an interaction. It’s far easier to ask someone what his or her shirt means, than it is to chase down a car to ask about a bumper sticker or vanity license plate.

“I believe that we are all to a degree, walking messengers. By the way we dress or by what we wear each of us is sending out messages on a regular basis. I’ve noticed that a lot of times when you have a T-shirt on people go up to you and will ask you what it means. It’s a conversation piece,” Walter said. “I believe that each of us, on a daily basis, and with each interaction have the opportunity to create a positive message about the dental lab industry.”

From awareness to improvement

Walter said the dental lab tech gear is designed to give technicians a public outlet for the pride they feel in the work they do. If the shirts serve as icebreakers for technicians wearing them, they turn those technicians into ambassadors for the industry.

The hope is that a more aware and engaged public gains a better understanding of the value and quality available from skilled lab technicians, and thus the entire industry becomes more valued by the public. Walter said he hopes this idea catches on with like-minded technicians who can begin raising the industry’s profile one person at a time.

“To me it has always been about the patient. I love what I do. I have a passion for making teeth. I want to duplicate nature with every product that I make and assure that I am giving the end user-the patient-the best restorations possible so that he or she can enjoy optimal oral health,” he said. “With that in mind I want to create public awareness within the general public of the dental lab industry to educate dental patients who will then demand good dentistry. As they demand better dentistry I believe it will also improve the dental lab industry.”