By Griffin Swartzell | Space Observer staff writer
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The fourth annual Area Dental Lab symposium began Tuesday, January 14, 2020, bringing together 147 attendees to learn about advances in dental laboratory tools and techniques. The event brought members of the Air Force, Army and Navy to a hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they attended a variety of courses and training sessions. It was organized by Lt. Col. Geoff Gessel, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, area dental laboratory director.
“We had 16 different courses, and 10 different companies came to help us out,” said Gessel. “Over the three days, each technician had eight hours worth of continuing education available. This symposium has hands-on training that doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
The technicians Gessel mentions were, by and large, educators sent by companies that the U.S. Military buys dental supplies from. Their specialized knowledge offers service members greater depth of knowledge and familiarity with their tools and supplies.
“The people that are presenting, they’re the experts,” said Tech Sgt. Monique Chamberland, 48th Dental Squadron dental lab tech at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, Great Britain. “We might have some experience with staining and glazing [dental crowns to make them look like real teeth], but their techniques are so, so much more advanced than what we do, so everyone can pick up something.”
Over the course of the three-day symposium, Chamberland amassed a wealth of practical knowledge and experience to bring back to her team at RAF Lakenheath. The U.S. Military uses dentistry supplies from a variety of companies — one company’s design software, another company’s stain and glaze, and so on — and working with the experts at this symposium also helped her and other service members better understand the tools and supplies they use.
“With these materials, if we run into an issue, the experts will tell us that it could be the oven, or it could be the temperature or the maintenance of the equipment,” said Chamberland.
But the symposium was not merely three days of vendors teaching service members how to use their tools. Master Sgt. Vladimir Roman, 88th Dental Squadron dental lab flight chief at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, helped coordinate and teach courses on using 3D printers to make dental devices, in a collaboration between Airmen from Wright-Patterson and Massachusetts-based 3D printing company Formlabs. He was part of the team that integrated 3D printing into his base’s surgical implant workflow, streamlining their efforts and saving money.
“We did a lot of research, a lot of collaborating with Formlabs via the phone, and we got the workflow to develop,” said Roman. “We did parallel processing or parallel fabrications, where we use the traditional methods, and then we use the digital 3D printing methods, and then once the parameters were all dialed in, we streamlined the workflow. After we got all that down in about six months, saving a lot of money and time, our group commander sourced more printers, and that helped us keep increasing productivity.”
Once word spread that he and his team had figured out how to use these tools, Roman said they started getting requests for support and training for the incorporation of 3D printing into dentistry around the Air Force. Bringing the course to the ADL symposium came next, and Roman said they plan to repeat it next year. He and his team will be improving the course based on the feedback they’ve received from service members at the symposium.