Laboratory professionals working to make the world a better place
The dental laboratory community is filled with people who give back, whether it is providing free dental work for those in need, using the resources of a successful business to make a difference, or simply devoting time and effort for selfless causes. In the following pages, we put the spotlight on four dental laboratory professionals who give back to the community in extraordinary ways, and who hope that their stories inspire their peers to follow suit.
Agent of Change
Laboratory owner pledges more charity work than annual income
By Pam Johnson
Taking life for granted is easy when you are young, ambitious, and raking in a six-figure salary from the custom home construction business you built from scratch. That was the life that Dane Barlow was living until the mid-2000s. Few could have imagined or foreseen the economic mega tsunami that lay ahead. Barlow certainly didn’t, and, like so many others, he got swept up in the disastrous aftermath. Panicked home buyers backed out of new construction contracts for homes he had already half built, banks turned deaf ears on pleas for financing to finish the jobs, and home values plummeted. The Great Recession was a harsh lesson in reality that almost brought the Boise, Idaho native to his knees. “The new home I was building for my family and the homes I was building under contract were foreclosed as well as our family home, which I was unsuccessful in refinancing,” Barlow says. With nowhere to live and most of his savings committed to finishing the construction jobs already under way, Barlow and his wife moved their three children into his sister’s garage, remodeling the attic into a 250-foot square apartment, and found themselves living on a meager $1,200 a month. “When you lose everything, you become acutely aware how very fragile life really is and what in life is most important,” Barlow says. “I realized we all have a limited time on earth to make a difference in our own lives as well as the lives of others. Reflecting back, it bothered me to think that when I had the wherewithal to help other people, I didn’t. And now that I had nothing, I couldn’t.”
Determined to dig his way out, Barlow picked up remodeling jobs to keep afloat, including one for his former neighbor Brad Jones, CDT, FAACD. The two struck up a friendship and when Barlow happened to mention to Jones that he had never liked the look of his front teeth, Jones proposed a trade in labor. Barlow talked it over with his wife and, although it meant more financial sacrifice, she agreed. A month after finishing the remodel job, Jones kept his end of the bargain and Barlow found himself in the dental office getting prepped for a new smile. “The new look changed my life,” Barlow says. He trimmed down 40 pounds, took up and mastered the discipline of Jiu Jitsu, and credited his improved appearance for helping to close deals on new remodeling jobs. However, after two years, even with the increased job load, Barlow was still far from regaining his financial foothold.
Realizing the housing market would not soon rebound and remembering how the smile makeover boosted his self-confidence and opened the door to new opportunities, Barlow decided to approach Jones about teaching him the dental technology profession. “A great smile opens up the floodgates of opportunity for ordinary people. I believed that if I could master this profession, it would provide a solid living and give me a way to help others who, like me, had met with misfortune,” he says. He spent his first six months in the laboratory, working for $8.50 an hour, answering phones, cleaning the building at the end of each day, and working in the model room. But he was also learning by watching Jones and the other technicians work on their craft, listening to their case discussions, and taking notes. When Jones went to courses, Barlow asked to come along. Finally at the end of the six months, Jones sat him down in front of a wet tray, sponge, and brush and began teaching him the finer points of building a natural-looking tooth with ceramic powders.
At the end of the first year, just when Barlow thought his feet were on solid ground, Jones made the unexpected announcement that he was closing his laboratory. Determined not to give up on this dream and never afraid to take on a challenge, the intrepid Barlow decided that he would find the investors needed to buy Jones’ business. Again, he went to his wife, she agreed, and Barlow approached Jones. It was early December when Jones agreed to the deal but gave Barlow only six weeks to raise the money. Undaunted, the Barlow family decided to forego celebrating Christmas that year to conserve money and ridded themselves of the few luxuries they had, including Internet service and cable TV. Barlow approached friends, business acquaintances, and family and, along with his own meager savings, scraped together the cash, promising investors a payback of 20% interest. In early 2012 he became a laboratory owner heavily in debt.
He trimmed staff, renegotiated equipment and overhead leasing contracts, and by the end of the first 60 days of ownership turned a profitable month. His goals were to pay back his investors by the end of the first year and for the business to be debt free by the end of year two, both of which he achieved. Not forgetting his vow to help others in need, he pledged to give away more in charity work than the annual income of his new business. He negotiated a trade-out with Timothy Huff, DDS, one of his dentist clients, exchanging chairtime and free crowns for a practice remodel to restore the upper and lower dentition of Johnny, a Jiu Jitsu colleague. Johnny suffered from dentinogenesis imperfecta and was working two jobs to finance schooling to realize his dream of becoming a counselor. Then there was the single mother with limited funds who was trying to start her own business but felt self-conscious about her smile when talking with investors. Jamie was a young man whose severely worn dentition made it painful to eat, let alone smile. Two dentists, unable to diagnose why his teeth continued to erode, had advised extraction and restoring with dentures. Barlow along with a dentist colleague restored Johnny's upper and lower arch with implants and crowns; Lorie's upper arch with crowns and veneers; and Jamie's upper and lower arches with full crowns.
But Barlow was not done giving back. He also donated money to those in need in his community and got involved with helping the Boy Scouts for two years.
Today, when someone asks Barlow, a member of the Dental Technicians Guild and one case away from accreditation by the AACD, what he does for a living, he replies, “I change people’s lives.” But it’s not just about being an agent of change and giving these people the gift of a beautiful smile. Barlow says the true reward lies in his recipients paying it forward by extending their hands to others in need. It is one man’s mission to make a difference by helping others and through that gift make the world a better place.