Digital Dentures Invigorate Longtime Laboratory Owner
Process allows technicians to maintain their personal touch
Bill Atkission started working in dental laboratory technology in large part because he loved working with his hands. More than 30 years later, his laboratory is on the cutting edge of digital technology, but Atkission still places value on working with his hands.
Atkission first became aware of dental laboratory technology while working in a grocery store in California. He spent an afternoon in a laboratory and decided to attend Dental Technology Institute in Orange County. Two days after graduating, he started working in a laboratory, and within 2 years he was the manager. Five years later, he opened a new laboratory with a partner, and 5 years after that, he opened his own laboratory.
"My goal for my laboratory was to have good communication with dentists and to be a part of their practice, not just somebody who makes crowns," says Atkission, who owns Bella Vita Dental Designs in Arden, North Carolina. "I wanted dentists to work with me because they like me, my work, and our communication. I wanted to be known for developing creative solutions on difficult cases."
Another perk to owning his own laboratory was being his own boss. With a growing family, Atkission worked early mornings in order to be home by mid-afternoon.
"I was able to coach all of my kids and see all of their plays and dance routines," Atkission says.
One development 12 years ago that helped with his work-life balance was somewhat serendipitous, as a dentist one day asked Atkission to accompany him to a meeting to learn about CAD/CAM technology. Atkission had his doubts about whether CAD/CAM could lead to losing that account, but he went to the meeting and quickly changed his tune.
"I was so excited about how much I could do and how fast I could do it," he says.
Atkission bought his first system soon after, and he now owns three Dentsply Sirona milling machines, a scanner, and a 3D printer.
"Our production and our operation have increased threefold," he says.
As Atkission and his son, Jesus Romero, sought to grow the business even more with the help of the latter's marketing background, they looked into new products they could offer. They considered digital dentures and eventually decided to try Dentsply Sirona's new digital dentures in conjunction with AvaDent Digital Dental Solutions.
"I had never wanted anything to do with dentures because of the mess, the smell, etc," Atkission says. "Digital dentures were exciting, though."
They hired a new technician with some expertise in denture fabrication, and the product line has been a success. The laboratory scans the case and sends the files to AvaDent, which sends back a 3D preview to share with the dentist and the patient. AvaDent then sends an STL file, from which the laboratory 3D-prints a monolithic try-in.
"It fits incredibly well," Atkission says. "The dentist can then write on it or grind on it, and we rescan it into the original design."
With a new STL file, the laboratory creates a new 3D preview and then mills the denture base from a Dentsply Sirona Lucitone® 199 Denture Base Disc. The denture teeth, Dentsply Sirona's Portrait IPN® Denture Teeth, are set in the base, and it is placed back into the mill for a second pass.
"It finishes to a point at which you could cut off the six sprues and put it in the mouth immediately if you wanted to," Atkission says.
Adding the finishing touches with his hands is important, though, so Atkission adds pumice to the denture before sending it to the dentist.
"It is a great system," he says. "It cuts down on time. It cuts down on the mess and the smell. It is a seamless process, and the result is a very esthetic, well-fitting denture."
AvaDent can handle the fabrication of the try-in and/or final prosthesis if a laboratory chooses, but Atkission prefers to keep production in-house so that he and his technicians can add their own touch to the exceptional product that is fabricated with the help of technology.
Digital equipment, he says, can do 90% of the work, but Atkission will always value using his hands, even as his laboratory continues to expand.
"We are growing, but at a pace that I hope will help maintain our quality," he says. "The equipment helps us get there quicker; it does not take away the artistic touch."
For more information, contact:
Dentsply Sirona Lab