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Dental lab: Behind the scenes artists

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, finishes creating a cast of teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Technicians use a material called “stone” to fill impressions. When the stone hardens, it creates a mold of the patient’s teeth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, finishes creating a cast of teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Technicians use a material called “stone” to fill impressions. When the stone hardens, it creates a mold of the patient’s teeth. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, creates a dental cast of a patient’s teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Casts are molds of people’s teeth, which are used to create dental gear that will fit the patient. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, creates a dental cast of a patient’s teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Casts are molds of people’s teeth, which are used to create dental gear that will fit the patient. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, prepares to fill an impression with stone at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. The impression needs to be filled within minutes, or it will expand and can’t be used. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, prepares to fill an impression with stone at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. The impression needs to be filled within minutes, or it will expand and can’t be used. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, works on making a retainer at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. When dentists bring new impressions to the lab, technicians must stop what they are doing and immediately fill the impression before it can no longer be used. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, works on making a retainer at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. When dentists bring new impressions to the lab, technicians must stop what they are doing and immediately fill the impression before it can no longer be used. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, finishes making a cast of a patient’s teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Lab technicians use casts to create crowns, retainers, night guards and more to fit the patient’s teeth perfectly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd Dental Squadron dental laboratory NCO in-charge, finishes making a cast of a patient’s teeth at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Aug. 30, 2018. Lab technicians use casts to create crowns, retainers, night guards and more to fit the patient’s teeth perfectly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stuart Bright)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- “Our primary mission is to create all the fixed and removable devices our patients receive,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Fitzgerald, 2nd DS clinical flight chief.

Airmen may need crowns, retainers, night guards or some other form of dental gear. To provide this, dentists take impressions of the patient’s mouth. Once made, they’re taken to the dental lab where the technicians make a mold from the impression. This is the part patients don’t get to witness.

“They’re the people you are never going to see,” Fitzgerald said. “They work behind the scenes.”

Because technicians work on multiple cases at once they have to stagger their cases to finish all their requests in a timely matter.

“We mostly focus on how much we get out a month,” Staff Sgt. Kimberly Conklin, 2nd DS dental laboratory NCOIC. “In one month we finish around 60 cases.”

While working, if a new impression is brought in, technicians have to stop working on their current project and fill the new impression. If it isn’t filled within minutes, the impression will expand and can’t be used.

Like an artist painting a blank canvas, they create works of art. Instead of their work being hung on a wall, their art becomes part of the patient.

“It’s cool to see something come from absolutely nothing,” Fitzgerald said.

Products take a while to create due to technicians working on multiple cases at once, so finishing a product can take a few days. When products are completed, there is a sense of satisfaction

“My favorite thing to make is a gold crown,” Conklin said. “It takes a long time to make it. When you get to the part of polishing it and you have that final product, I feel satisfied. I feel proud of making an individual crown for an individual patient.”

Dental lab technicians from the 2nd DS craft dental gear that help Team Barksdale Airmen stay healthy.
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