Dental Laboratory Tools and How to Use Them
If you’ve ever needed a crown, bridge, or some other dental prosthetic, then you’ve benefited from the work of a dental laboratory technician. DLTs are equal parts sculptors and engineers, and they are the ones who ultimately make the prosthetics that benefit millions of people. According to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, 15 million people in the U.S. have a dental crown or bridge, and millions more have other implants.
Making prosthetic teeth has a long history. George Washington famously had dentures, after all. The myth persists that his were made of wood. They were actually a mixture of ivory, gold, and other materials, and they were cutting edge for their time. Today, though, DLTs use technology to make teeth a bit more high-tech than Washington’s were. Here are a few common DLT tools and how to use them.
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Dental impressions and molds
No two mouths are alike. Before making any teeth, a DLT needs to know the details of a patient’s bite. Wax bite rims or other impression tools can record the shape and size of a person’s teeth, the dimensions of their mouth, and other specific, personalized information.
These impressions from a dentist will allow DLTs to make a model of the mouth they’re crafting a prosthetic for. The work ahead entails a fair amount of detail work, fine-tuning, and customization. Dental impressions give DLTs the first tool they need for their job: Accurate information.
Dental prosthetics need to be as hard and strong as natural teeth, and that means crafting them from materials that only melt or break at very high temperatures. Porcelain is one of the most common things to fabricate dental prosthetics from, but it’s by no means the only material. Metals and other ceramics also find their way into new teeth, and at Ameritech, we teach our students to work with a variety of potential prosthetic materials.
DLTs will pour hot, liquid material into a form and allow it to set inside of a tooth-shaped mold. After the material cools, the DLT will have the beginnings of a crown that can be shaped, detailed, and customized to the patient’s needs. But first, it needs to be freed from the form it was fired in.
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When a crown or other prosthetic comes out of the furnace, it will still have bits of molding adhered to it. The process of making a tooth generally goes from using coarse to fine tools, and freeing the tooth from its mold involves one of the more high-powered tools available to the DLT. True to its name, an abrasive blaster (usually a sand blaster) blows chunks of molding off of the prosthetic. After the blasting treatment, only the porcelain or other material is left.
After the material’s had the mold remnants blasted from it, it will need to be shaped. Electric handpieces with spinning heads can grind and form the prosthetic, bringing it closer to something that can rest in a patient’s mouth. These tools can size down a tooth, give it a characteristic curve, or help form a distinctive point.
However, a spinning handpiece can only handle the broad strokes. For the finer details, DLTs need to break out the sculpting tools.
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Files, picks, and other hand tools
DLTs need to have an eye for detail. Teeth have crevices, curves, points, and other unique features. DLTs rely on their own hands and eyes to create and bring life to the finer points of a tooth. Picks, files, and other shaping tools allow DLTs to make the ridges and curves that give teeth their distinctiveness and functionality and make your new teeth look just like your natural ones.
The spinning dental lathe might look like a bench grinder, but it’s for delicate, work. The high-speed rotor polishes and finishes artificial teeth, contributing to the sheen that will make them right at home with a patient’s naturally occurring pearly whites. It’s also what DLTs use for the finest work on the prosthetics. This is where buffing, polishing, and the last minute details of shaping come into play.
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The teeth that DLTs make for patients have to fit in with what’s already in their smile. Ideally, crowns and bridges will look natural and at home amidst all other natural teeth. A shade guide is a series of common shades of off-white for teeth. With it, DLTs can color their creations to a patient’s existing teeth, so prosthetics won’t stand out. When it’s all finished, a crown, bridge, or other prosthetic will look right at home in your smile.