The Dental Arts

I may be a bridgetender, but like an onion, I have many layers. I also have a degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management. I am fascinated with dental appliances and their fabrication. I graduated with honors. I had big dreams.

Not that those dreams went anywhere. After applying to 200 different labs with no viable offers, and after seeing that dental appliance technology is outpacing the little mom and pop labs that I hoped to be a part of, and after having a wrist surgery that would have made it extremely painful to do the fine motor movements required on a day to day basis, I wised up and went back to bridgetending.

But the fascination remains. So when I needed a crown replaced, I was delighted to see it’s entire design and creation chairside. We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when you had to get a gloopy, bad-tasting mold taken of your teeth, then come back weeks later to have a crown fitted that had been fabricated in an offsite lab.

Instead, they popped off my old crown, and took photographs of my teeth from every possible angle, and then, voila! A three-dimensional image of my teeth appeared on the computer screen. It was fascinating.

From there, Mary, the technologist, created a crown for me on screen. Make no mistake, this was no flimsy endeavor. This takes skill in both science and art. She has to have knowledge of oral anatomy and how various teeth interact with one another. And she also must create a final product that will not only be functional but also aesthetically pleasing. That’s an admirable talent.

I watched her create this tooth and enjoyed imagining her thought process. It was like digital sculpting. Leonardo da Vinci would have been intrigued. And proud.

She consulted with my dentist (a big shout out to Dr. Steven Lockett in Renton, Washington, and his entire amazing staff!) and did a few tweaks based on his suggestions, and then sent the data off to the machine for fabrication. I wish I could have seen that. I know that the machine carves the crown out of little blocks of some mysterious substance that is probably trademarked by the company that created CEREC, the CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) system that my dentist uses.

I could be wrong, but I think of it kind of like 3d printing in reverse. Instead of creating things from a bead-like substance, this machine carves it down from a cube. I mean, seriously, how cool is that?

In no time flat, my crown was hot off the presses, so to speak, and ready to go into my mouth. In it went, and off I went. Just another thing checked off my to-do list. And yet, when I think of the science and artistry that went into the whole endeavor, I still am filled with awe.

By the way, one of my favorite blog posts is the one I wrote entitled Cool Stuff You Never Knew about your Teeth.  Check it out! If you don’t learn at least one thing from it, I’ll eat my hat. With my brand new crown.

https _upload.wikimedia.org_wikipedia_commons_d_d0_CEREC-kronprep

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Giving Up

Not every dream you have is going to work out. Not every person you fall for is going to love you back. Sometimes you will make the wrong choices, life will get in the way, or things will be out of your control.

That was made abundantly clear the other day when I was unpacking boxes that I had been storing in my guest room. I was confronted with about 25 pounds of notes that I had taken when I was pursuing my Dental Laboratory Technology degree. Despite graduating with honors and having high hopes about buying a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina and starting my own dental lab out of the garage, here I am, a bridgetender in Seattle.

I wanted that dream so badly I could taste it. But I couldn’t convince anyone to hire me so that I could gain the needed experience, and I certainly couldn’t control the fact that 6 months later I needed surgery on my wrist that would make it physically impossible to do that work.

The death of a dream. Hate when that happens. I think I went into mourning for about a year, and despite the fact that I’ve since moved on, I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of those notes. I lugged them all the way across the country with me, even though I knew, without a doubt, that I’d have no use for them. I just wasn’t ready to let go.

So here was this massive pile of emotionally-charged notes that were taking up space in my guest room. But this was ridiculous. The last thing I need is a 25 pound albatross around my neck. So, trying not to think too much, I pitched them all into the recycle bin.

Well, no, not all of them. I kept my orthodontic notes. And textbooks. And tools. Because that’s what I wanted to do—make orthodontic appliances, like retainers. I know I’m being silly. I know that dream isn’t happening, ever. But it’s a part of who I was, who I am. And those tools might actually come in handy. You never know.

But it was rather cleansing, getting rid of all the other stuff. It felt like another step toward healing. It was high time.

Giving up on something or someone after you’ve exhausted all viable avenues of pursuit isn’t necessarily defeat. It isn’t abject failure, either. It means, quite often, that you’re being a mature adult who is being realistic and moving on.

There’s no shame in that. It’s a huge part of life. And if you’re lucky, like I’ve been, you can look back from a good place and realize you actually wound up right where you were supposed to be all along. You may not have been able to see it in the past, but things have a funny way of working out the way they should.

Sometimes you have to give up in order to get something spectacular. Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do.

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