Technician’s Journey Reaches High Point with Commitment to Quality
New materials help produce better work more efficiently
Al Hodges’ career in dental laboratory technology began serendipitously, but since then his journey has been meticulously planned. Hodges enrolled in laboratory school because a friend told him he delivered cases for a laboratory and it seemed easy. Hodges himself opened a laboratory afterward because he “did not have anything else to do,” he says. His career really got started when he attended a course by international lecturer Ken Guthrie, who taught him the finer points on how to build a crown with anatomy, occlusion, etc.
“That introduced me to the artistry element of our profession,” says Hodges, a CDT who owns Highland Dental Arts in Waynesburg, Kentucky. “It took me approximately 10 years to become proficient at just making basic teeth that I could sell to dentists.”
It took 10 more years, he admits, to learn how to run a business. Another turning point in Hodges’ career came when he spent a year working in a production laboratory that operated with an assembly-line workflow.
“That completely changed how I learned to be productive,” he says. “That was when I started to make money.”
Hodges eventually opened another laboratory of his own, and after comparing processes, he realized he could do what they did on a smaller scale. He notified all of his clients that the laboratory would be closed for the week and that they would get their cases on Monday. He then tackled the cases not one by one but all together, completing each step en masse, like a scaled-down assembly line. What he found was that this approach helped not only with efficiency but also with quality.
“I was paying closer attention to each step, so my work was better,” he says. “My stress level also decreased, and my income increased because with two people we were doing the same amount of work we had been doing with five.”
While Hodges found immense success with that approach, he changed course again a few years ago based on the belief that high-end quality would be a better niche for a small laboratory in the future as the industry evolves.
“I had long ago abandoned doing nice work, and that was evident when I started photographing my restorations,” he says. “I made a commitment to start fabricating one case per week that would be a show piece. After 6 months, I noticed all my work improving. After 5 years, I had a large portfolio of high-quality work. I began networking at clinical courses and in online forums, and now I can choose the cases I accept.”
Hodges’ reputation began to spread, and he eventually agreed to become a key opinion leader (KOL) for GC America Inc, lecturing around the country.
“I found GC’s materials to be far superior to what I had been using,” he says. “Their porcelain had more colors and was more user-friendly. It improved my work.”
When GC America was developing its Initial™ LiSi line, Hodges helped test it. He found the LiSi layering porcelain to have more chroma than what was currently on the market.
“The enamel and the incisal porcelains are not as gray,” he says. “There is also a wider window between under-firing and over-firing with LiSi’s formulation; I can fire it at a low temperature and still have clarity, or if I fire higher, it does not glass out as much. I can also place it anywhere on the firing tray, unlike other porcelains, which can be sensitive depending on where they are placed in the furnace.”
When GC developed Initial LiSi Press, a lithium disilicate material, the company asked Hodges and Bill Marais, RDT, for feedback. Marais recommended enamel ingots rather than only dentin shades, and GC accommodated the request.
“Now we can press with this clear, translucent ingot,” Hodges says. “It rivals feldspathic veneers. The enamel ingots save me so much time in the laboratory because I can wax and press full-contour restorations and then glaze them. Previously, I had to press a chip and layer it, which requires a tremendous amount of time and skill. Now, I can create beautiful monolithic restorations.”
For anterior restorations, Hodges says, LiSi Press has completely changed the way he works because significantly less layering is required. For the posterior region, LiSi Press MT also has more translucency than similar products, he says. Additionally, LiSi Press has no reaction layer after pressing because it is a denser material, offering a more natural-looking surface finish.
As a result, Hodges is confident that he has settled on his current business model of high-end work for the foreseeable future, even as digital technology continues to spread.
“CAD/CAM is just a tool, and how you make a restoration is secondary to the final product and how you present it,” Hodges says. “GC Initial LiSi products allow me to efficiently produce a level of quality that dentists continue to demand.”
For more information, contact:
GC America Inc.
Al Hodges, CDT, owner of Highland Dental Arts in Waynesburg, Kentucky.