Dental Tribune USA

PAW’s ‘tatooth’: Buccal aspect adventure connects hygienist with lab tech

By Patricia Walsh, RDH, Editor in Chief, Hygiene Tribune
November 23, 2016

Just prior to his retirement, my boss decided it was time do some farewell dentistry on me. Poor old #18 had been patched and repatched for years. The tooth was in need of a crown. For decades, quick restorations were done. Spur-of-the-moment fillings were squeezed in between my hygiene duties. At one point, I was left alone — still-elevated and reclined — when the doctor and his assistant went off to see their next patient in an adjoining room.

Am I done? Am I supposed to get myself out of here? Can I reach the buttons? I finally whimpered for help.

This month it was time for me to have a “real” appointment on my day off. While I was sitting in the chair, waiting for the crown impression to set, I remembered a long-ago patient who had a Dow Chemical logo on his molar. Rather than believe he had a strong esprit de corps, I had always thought of it as a form of forensic ID. If you’re a chemical engineer potentially in the wrong place at the wrong time in some far off developing country — taking such precautions seemed plausible to me. For all I knew, perhaps he never made it farther than Stamford, Conn. Nonetheless, it was this adventurous, imaginative notion that inspired me.

During my travels to Asia, I did give some serious consideration to a foreign-language body tattoo. I just never summoned the courage. Because my initials are PAW, I decided that a pawprint on the buccal aspect of my molar would be just the thing. Fearful that I could wind up with a ferocious bear print, rather than a cutesy cute pussycat print, I included a Googled image to attach to the lab slip. Can’t say that I saw another image of a paw as a tooth tattoo on my internet search. Plenty of animals affiliated with professional and school sports teams can be found adorning teeth. Harley Davison motorcycles and hearts seem to be popular.

My old boss, being the rascal that he is, added a personal note to his lab slip. He scribbled, “She’s a cougar!” Well har dee har har. After 40 years of using the same lab, I guess he was entitled to a little sexist joke. I later told the lab technician that if I were a cougar, then my “cub” is 60 years old. Not much in the way of bragging rights there. Half of my office thinks I’m off my rocker for getting a “tatooth.” The other half thinks it’s adorable.

Many years ago, the same doctor was making small talk while waiting for his patient to get numb. After a few minutes the patient asked the doctor and his assistant if they wished to see her new tattoo. The young lady did not wait for a response. She leaned forward in the chair, lifted up her shirt and tugged down on her jeans. Ta da. There it was, in all its colorful glory. After the appreciative nods and the obligatory oohs and aahs, the dentist continued with her restorative work as if nothing unusual had just happened.

Early in my career, there was a young dentist who told me he was envious of his older brother who was an MD in Philadelphia. When I asked him why, he responded, “Just once in my life I would like to be able to turn to a patient and say, “Take your clothes off, I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” I groaned and replied, “Probably a very old dental school joke.” He would have enjoyed “tattoo girl.”

I decided to pop into our local dental lab with a box of doughnuts as a thank-you for their beautiful work. Staring at my new crown in its tiny plastic box, I suddenly realized what a disconnect there is between technician and hygiene. Unless a hygienist works in a large group practice with an in-house lab, it’s unlikely she or he has ever stepped foot inside a lab. I was particularly impressed with the fact that the technicians had knowledge of at least eight different digital impression devices. While a series of individual images creates model-free impressions now, videos will be the next big leap.

If we have a temp in the office who is familiar with Dentrix but not Eaglesoft, there’s a learning curve. Most often, those are your only two hygiene choices. Inside a dental office where there is a newly purchased digital impression device, a staff member can expect two to three days of in-house training. More education is available online, the company rep might come in for glitches, but it’s truly a “learn-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” adventure. As technology rapidly changes, I imagine the lab technicians will be going to perpetual C.E. courses for new and forever-updating software.

Despite all the technical advancements, machines are not able to recreate the intricate and subtle esthetic features of a natural tooth. The lab technician’s artistic expertise is still very important.

To my coworkers who were unimpressed with my choice of crown “color” (my customization was identified on the invoice as a $100 custom color) all I can say is this. A body tattoo sags over time, my paw print will be perfect forever. I’m thinking that when #31 breaks down, perhaps some little cat ears on the lingual side, with a matching tail on the buccal side?

This article was published in Hygiene Tribune U.S. Edition, Vol. 9 No. 6, December 2016 issue.


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