Top 25 Women in Dentistry: Top Women among Dental Labs

March 21, 2012
Issue 9

Laura Kelly, AAACD “Growing up, I had no idea dental labs even existed, so it was literally by chance when I joined the profession,” Laura admits. “I always enjoyed working with my hands and loved art, so when I was attending college and heard about an opening at a local dental laboratory, I decided to find out what dental labs were all about.” Within a year, Laura fell in love with her profession, and decided to commit her efforts toward furthering her education in the field of dental technology with a focus on esthetic dentistry.

Laura Kelly, AAACD

“Growing up, I had no idea dental labs even existed, so it was literally by chance when I joined the profession,” Laura admits. “I always enjoyed working with my hands and loved art, so when I was attending college and heard about an opening at a local dental laboratory, I decided to find out what dental labs were all about.” Within a year, Laura fell in love with her profession, and decided to commit her efforts toward furthering her education in the field of dental technology with a focus on esthetic dentistry. She soon joined the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and was successful in achieving Accreditation in 1993.

Laura’s career started with an interest to pursue a business major in school, but her fascination with dental laboratory technology and the technician/dentist relationship soon took center stage for her. Many key people whom she worked with in the early days noticed her ability to understand and deliver cosmetic dental results, combined with her strong people skills and business focus.

That drive took her to new levels of success and leadership, becoming the first woman and the first dental lab technician to serve as president of the AACD in 2007. Also that year, Laura opened a full-service, boutique-style dental laboratory-LK Dental Studio in San Ramon, Calif. She spends her days with a team of talented and experienced technicians, all whom share her vision to focus on function and esthetics. The lab offers high-end customer service and specializes in the fabrication of all case types, servicing dentists throughout the U.S.

As a woman, Laura prides herself on trying to lead with compassion, along with exhibiting strong and effective communication skills. She feels that listening well to others, and developing win-win relationships, is the most effective way to lead small teams as well as large groups of people toward a common goal. It helps that she has the ability to see the best in people, pulling like-minded people together and working hard to motivate everyone to be the best they can be.

Laura is a woman who truly just enjoys being around successful people, as well as being a good role model for her two children. “It was tough trying to balance a family, career and leadership positions, especially when the kids were younger,” Laura says.

“Being fortunate to have a strong support system in place can make all the difference.”

When asked what keeps her striving for new challenges Laura says, “when someone tells me I can’t do something that I feel is possible and worthy, it challenges me even more. I know what it feels like to work hard for something you believe in, and I’m not the kind of person who gives up easily.”

Rita Acquafredda, VP and General Manager of Zahn Dental

The average dental technician working away in the laboratory and the dentist who depends on those technicians may have no idea who Rita Acquafredda is. But for the last 30 years, she has been instrumental in moving the lab industry forward in terms of service, quality and technology.

Rita’s journey began at Nordent Dental Laboratory Supply. “I was originally interested in medical research,” she says. “My cousin died from leukemia and I wanted to work to find a cure.” Rita first worked in Nordent’s accounting department, quickly advancing to the purchasing, marketing and sales divisions before being promoted to Operations Manager. She joined Darby in 1989 as Purchasing Manager of its dental laboratory division when it acquired Nordent. As her expertise continued to grow, her responsibilities soon included dental, dental laboratory, orthodontics, and international markets, and she was promoted to Vice President.

In 2006, Rita joined Henry Schein Inc. as Director and General Manager of the Zahn Dental Laboratory division, and was recently promoted to Vice President and General Manager of that division. Rita leads a 130-member Zahn team, whose mission is to be a trusted business partner to the company’s laboratory customers.

While grounded in the traditional way of doing business in the laboratory segment, Rita is a leading proponent of digital manufacturing to help lab customers compete in a fast-changing marketplace.  “Customers, vendors and team members are like family, so if they are in pain, you are too,” she explains. She has proven to be extremely adept in recognizing challenges and working toward effective solutions. That ability, and the resulting success, isn’t something that came easily, as there were few women in the industry 30 years ago. But Rita has persevered and succeeded, and her team’s achievements have made all the hard work worthwhile. “The interaction, trust and friendship of my team is very important. I’m proud of our accomplishments.”

Teresa Calliari

When talking about high-school sweethearts, the love interest isn’t usually your work. Unless, of course, you’re Teresa Calliari. Today, after 26 years in a dental lab, the romance is still there.

In high school, Teresa started out working in the lab part-time for Dr. Randall Moles pouring and trimming plaster models and performing various other duties. After continuous practice and training, Teresa was hooked and turned on to the idea of a full-time position in the lab. She now happily puts her skills to work at Moles

Orthodontics’ multiple branches in Wisconsin. Her staff proudly boasts that she can make any appliance and makes balancing the workload for the practice’s three offices seem easy. While behind the scenes, she comes in early, stays late and does what it takes to get the job done.

Even though Teresa has made a huge impact on the team since she began working in the lab, she admits she was not always so efficient. “I wasn’t always as organized as I am today,” she says. “I had to learn to plan ahead. You really do have to plan everything.”

In Teresa’s case, she plans not just for the work at hand, but for mentoring as well, as staff from other offices come to observe and train with her. She also spearheads the practice’s “mini orthodontist” program, where kids come into the lab and she teaches them how to bend wires, and then has them try for themselves.  “It’s great to see the kids when they visit and watch me work,” she says.

Teresa loves seeing the final results and knowing she had a part in it. “You see the outcome and the happiness in their smile, which makes it all worth it.”

Ricki Braswell, Co-executive director for the NADL

At heart, Ricki Braswell is an advocate. Lucky for the dental lab industry, she is advocating on its behalf.

“My father wanted me to be an attorney. Between my junior and senior years of college I changed my mind. Law wasn’t for me,” she remembers. “I had been in the same place for nine years, right out of college, and I was presented with a unique opportunity to be an advocate for dental laboratory technology and bring some resources back to that profession.”

As Co-Executive Director for the National Association of Dental Labs (NADL), she has her hands in training the board, financial management, staff liaison work, magazine publishing and more. These responsibilities are more than just a to-do list for Ricki; she is truly passionate about the dental technician’s role.

“Dental technicians are creating things that only God before them made,” she says. “A lot of times, dentists only have peripheral vision of what a laboratory technician does. It takes tremendous skill and knowledge. Not just anyone can be a technician.”

The NADL does more than just advocate. The organization is now involved in every aspect of what a non-profit does, including developing a scholarship for people who want to take the Certified Dental Technician exams, but can’t because of the cost. To date, the NADL has awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships. The NADL also was there when Hurricane Katrina hit, helping laboratories hit hard by the storm.

“It was just incredible, within 48 hours of the hurricane we started issuing wire transfers, and what started out as immediate response turned into a fund we have,” she explains. The NADL was able to send out more than $200,000 in aid after Katrina struck. Now the association maintains a standing disaster relief fund, available for dental laboratories nationally to help in the event of a natural disaster. 

Judy Maynor

Twenty-five years ago, she was hired to pour models. Today, Judy Maynor runs an in-house lab with three employees that produces more than 2,000 crown and bridge units each year, places more than 350 implants annually, makes implant-supported dentures, partials and fully articulated gnathological dentures. As the head laboratory technician capable of performing every step in the production of all laboratory prosthetics, she sums up her long list of responsibilities by simply saying, “It’s rewarding-and never boring.”

Judy believes the team at Simpson Dental Associates-both dental staff and lab technicians-changes people’s lives. “Our motto is, ‘Smiles matter, and we make beautiful smiles,’” she says.

That passion does not just come from what she’s been able to do for others, but from her own experiences with restorative dentistry. “I chipped my teeth when I was 12 and I had to walk around for two weeks with broken teeth,” she remembers. “The dentist repaired my teeth and made me a flipper, but the lab tech must have been cross-eyed; I was so unhappy with the results. I thought I could have done better at that age, which is when I really became interested in teeth.”

Judy says she lucked into the best job anyone could have. Dr. Robert R. Simpson hired her to pour models and her career took off. “Once I saw the opportunity to be a part of a team that would change people’s lives and their success, I knew this was the job for me,” she says, also commenting on the ways in which it draws on her love of working with her hands, taking things apart and fixing them. For all her gifts on the mechanical side, her favorite aspect of the work is getting to work with patients from start to finish.

“Dr. Simpson had such a great love for lab work that he passed on to me,” Judy explains. “Now, I am able to work with his son, Dr. Mark Simpson, who picked up where he left off. He has trained me and stood by me, encouraging me every step of the way,” Judy says. “And now his daughter, Dr. Christen Simpson, has been a wonderful addition to the practice, and she has a great love of dentistry.

“I learned at a young age that if I was going to make something of myself, it was up to me to do it,” she continues, “but I am so thankful for the people in my life who have and who continue to help me along the way.”