Dental Lab helps maintain Airman readiness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ryan Lackey
Dentists perform many feats of skill to keep teeth in tip-top shape, but there are times they need to call in an unexpected specialist to tackle a difficult problem. These specialists support Airmen outside the examination room, working behind the scenes to keep people smiling brightly.

Supporting people’s smiles is a daily job for dental lab technician Tech. Sgt. Manuel Painter, who singlehandedly crafts crowns and dental appliances in an area of the dental clinic more akin to a machine shop than a medical suite.

“Most people may not know that their dentist calls in machinist to make dental parts for them,” said Tech. Sgt. Manuel Painter, 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental technician. “I make any kind of dental prosthesis, fixed crowns or bridges, or removable like a hard night guard.”

The dental lab is responsible for creating dental appliances for the entire base, which can become a critical factor in helping dentists prepare Airmen for deployment.

“The biggest thing with the dental lab is getting people out of Class 3,” Painter said. “Class 3 is waiting on a crown and is not deployable without getting it.”

One man dental labs are uncommon, but new specialized equipment is enabling Painter to pull out a new tooth crown in record time for those heading out on deployment.

“This technology can help me make a crown in just a few hours,” Painter said. “The Omni Cam can take a 3-D picture of a tooth still in somebody’s mouth, so while the dentist prepares the patient, I’m here milling it out and finishing it for them. It’s amazing what we can do.”

Making a dental fixture was a complicated and labor intensive affair before these new advances were available. The work had to be done by hand and was too time consuming for one person to handle. Most fixtures needed to be sent out to the Air Force’s largest dental lab at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, which could take as long as 70 days to receive.

“My average time now is about 14 days,” Painter said. “I don’t work on just one case at a time, I have a queue like Netflix and work on a series of cases to get people out reasonably quick, because 14 days is way better than 70.”

Even with the new machines, this one man operation manages to complete approximately 30 fixed dental appliances per month versus only five per year, as most of the large projects were sent out to larger labs previously. The localization saves the Air Force considerable expenses in terms of shipping, labor and time.

“Tech. Sgt. Painter has managed to drastically increase what the Dental Clinic can accomplish,” said Capt. Brian Blackwell, 92nd AMDS general dentist. “We are able to tend to dental restoration patients up to five times as fast with his ever growing capacity to do this work locally. With his skills and willingness to embrace new technology and ideas, he is a phenomenal asset to the clinic and to Fairchild.”

Helping service members be fit to fight with a smile is an important job, one that the dental lab takes pride in.

“It can be a day-to-day job, but then you get a person with really messed up teeth and dentist calls you in and says, “What can we do about this?” Painter said. “After six to 10 replacements and fixes, they can smile again with a confidence they haven’t had in years. That feels really good.”