By Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Technology and medicine become more integrated with each passing day. Currently, scientists are on the cusp of creating human organs with 3-D printers and using mechanized devises to replicate the functions of the human heart.
Dentistry is also experiencing these rapid advancements thanks to new technologies as well.
Ron Hill, 21st Space Wing Area Dental Lab certified dental technician, said that while many procedures today still rely on hand-made impressions to build dental appliances, technology is quickly changing this process.
Hill began his career in dentistry while serving as a fixed prosthetic technician in the Army during the Vietnam War. He continued in this field from 1973-1989 with his own private dental appliance practice until he joined the Air Force as a civilian in 1998.
According to Hill, many dental appliances — such as bridges or crowns — are still manufactured by hand. This process begins by molding an impression of a patient’s dental arch after which technicians at a base’s dental clinic create a positive cast from the impression.
If a clinic does not have these capabilities, the cast is shipped to an area dental lab, such as the one here at Peterson to finish the job — a process that could take several days to complete.
Thanks to new technologies this time-consuming process has been greatly reduced.
Hill said the military’s current process of creating dental appliances still requires a positive cast to be created from a patient, but these casts are now scanned into a computer system that allows technicians to build an appliance digitally rather than toiling through tedious hands-on processes.
The newest phase of military dental appliance manufacturing will allow patients to have their teeth scanned from their dentist’s chair, forgoing the molding process completely, Hill said. The data captured from these scans is then sent to an area dental lab where technicians can manufacture a finished appliance in under an hour.
“It’s like seeing the Wright Brothers creating their flying machine and then making the jump to space travel,” Hill said, remarking on the advancements of modern dentistry.
Hill added that making these changes is the proper move and will help carry military dentistry from one generation into the next.
These changes will enable faster turnover times and the ability to get more products to patients faster than ever before — ultimately enabling warfighters from each service to remain healthy and ready to complete the mission.