Providing Needed Skills to Dental Charities
Taylor volunteers for Den-Tech, which connects laboratories with charities in need of restorative services
One of the most common challenges for charities offering dental services is their scope; restorative services are often particularly problematic because of the time, materials, equipment, and different sets of expertise necessary. It can be such a problem that some patients decline extractions at free clinics because they would prefer to live with pain rather than missing teeth. Andrea Johnson, an orthodontic and maxillofacial laboratory manager at Montagu Hospital in Mexborough, England, witnessed this problem up close, and along with fellow technician Andrew Sinclair, she decided to do something about it by starting Den-Tech, a charitable organization connecting dental technicians around the United Kingdom with charities in need of their services.
"Andrew and I had been involved separately with various dental charities, and we were frustrated that, while they were alleviating pain, most of them were not restoring the dentition," Johnson says. "We discussed some ideas and eventually decided to start our own charity."
Den-Tech quickly found a great demand for its services. Fortunately, technicians also gravitated to the organization—including Inside Dental Technology Editorial Advisory Board member Ian Taylor, CDTdipRCS.
Taylor had operated a successful dental laboratory for 30 years, with 28 employees at its peak, before selling the business in 2015 and requalifying as a clinical dental technician, the UK's equivalent of a denturist. He now works 2 days clinically and 3 days in his home laboratory each week, enjoying the privilege of seeing the patient journey from start to finish. Still, he felt a desire to do more.
"As I was approaching the twilight of my career, I thought, ‘What else can I do?'" Taylor says. "Dentures have been very good to me, and I love what I do. When I saw Den-Tech at a trade show shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I wanted to be involved. They help people, such as the homeless and veterans, who are often ignored for the wrong reasons."
The pandemic delayed his involvement, but Taylor has now worked on charity cases through Den-Tech for more than a year. He has worked on six denture cases from start to finish, as well as some smaller tasks such as trays.
"I get a wonderful sense of giving back, helping others, and being part of something great," he says.
Currently, Taylor provides materials at his own expense for the cases he works on, but he hopes to approach some companies about subsidizing projects. He also looks forward to meeting the Den-Tech team and other volunteers face-to-face, as well as working at in-person events.
"A group called Crisis invited Den-Tech to their homeless shelters in the weeks leading up to Christmas," Taylor says. "In their first year, they did 20 cases, and in their second year, they did 30. I would love to volunteer for that."
Johnson says Den-Tech plans to continue expanding its services, including a new registry system to facilitate easier connections between dental professionals for charities. They also have been collecting used laboratory equipment from around the UK to set up laboratories in third-world countries.
"The services we offer are in such high demand," Johnson says. "One of our biggest challenges is managing expectations and demand."
Taylor says as the organization's capabilities continue to grow, he hopes more dentist-technician connections are made.
"Dentists and technicians are often disconnected, so charity work is a good way to get the two together for the right cause," Taylor says.
One of Johnson's favorite stories was when, prior to the existence of Den-Tech, she was volunteering as a nurse at a dental clinic, and the dentists called her attention to a patient who was having a problem with an existing denture; none of them knew what to do. The patient was in pain from a small spike on the post dam that was digging into the palate. Johnson did not have her laboratory tools, but she borrowed an emery board from someone and filed the piece down.
"This gentleman sat and cried because it was the first time in so long that he could put his denture in without pain," Johnson says. "We were able to change his life with such a minor fix, but without the knowledge of a trained dental technician, it would not have been possible. We hope to continue doing more of that."