Techs behind the teeth

Edward Ibarra, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, refines an implant at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Edward Ibarra, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, refines an implant at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Tech Sgt. Antwon Mcphail, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, shapes a mouth guard at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Tech Sgt. Antwon Mcphail, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, shapes a mouth guard at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, uses steam to clean off a mold at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, uses steam to clean off a mold at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, uses steam to clean off a mold at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, uses steam to clean off a mold at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. The dental laboratory creates mouth appliances for patients prescribed by the dentists. Appliances may be permanent or removable depending on the treatment plan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, prepares to make a mouth guard at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Airman 1st Class Christine Chang, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, prepares to make a mouth guard at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Staff Sgt. Kristina Plunkett, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, shapes wax to a custom tray at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Staff Sgt. Kristina Plunkett, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, shapes wax to a custom tray at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Staff Sgt. Kristina Plunkett, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, cuts off excess material from a custom tray at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

Staff Sgt. Kristina Plunkett, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron, cuts off excess material from a custom tray at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2016. This four-manned laboratory cares for more than 40 patients every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla., -- Lose a tooth? Need a crown, bridge or mouth guard? There are four Air Commandos with the 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron specifically trained to make dental prostheses and appliances for patients who need them.

Dental laboratory technicians provide support to dentists by crafting prostheses and appliances that go in the mouth to help improve each patient’s dental health.

“We are the silent operators behind the curtains,” stated Edward Ibarra, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st SODS. “Most of the time patients will come in and not even see us. We don’t usually see patients unless the dentist asks for help when picking a tooth shade to match the crown or teeth we are replacing.”

Whether it’s fixed or removable, dental technicians cater to each patient’s needs according to the dentists prescribed treatment plan.

Fixed appliances are those that stay in the mouth permanently, such as a crown or bridge. Examples of removable appliances are dentures, retainers, or mouthguards.

When it comes to ensuring the appliances meet the patient’s needs, the equipment used by the technicians plays a major role.

Recently, the dental laboratory received a renovation to create a larger and user friendly work environment. More space allows for increased production and room for the bulky equipment needed to make the dental prostheses and appliances.

“By having the up-to-date equipment and technology, it helps us immensely,” said Mr. Ibarra. “It’s like driving a brand new car compared to an older model. Newer models have all the bells and whistles that help it run smoothly… it’s the same thing with our equipment. It’s not breaking down every month and we are able to successfully deliver the appliances to the patients.”

The new technology allows technicians to create crowns in one day, rather than the 15 days it took before. The extra 14 days free up dentists’ and patients’ availability and helps those who are deploying or need care quickly.

Although the new technology is helpful, making these appliances still requires the unique skill set of the technicians to craft them.

“If a patient doesn’t receive what they need from us, then they may get distracted from their duties or not be able to properly function because of the pain,” stated Staff Sgt. Kristina Plunkett, a dental laboratory technician with the 1st SODS. “Our biggest goal is to make sure people have what they need and are happy with the end result.”

Hurlburt’s laboratory and dental squadron combined serve approximately 8,500 active-duty personnel.

“We are the definition of doing better with less and still meeting all of the mission priorities,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Pelkey, the commander of the 1st SODS. “I’m really proud of our dental laboratory crew. They had to be very patient while working in less than ideal conditions for a long time during the recent lab renovation. They were literally were working out of closets for a while, but their patience is now paying off. They are our squadron’s unsung heroes and quiet professionals”

By having skilled technicians and a dental lab with the latest upgrades, Air Commandos are able to get their dental needs met quickly and effectively so they can continue with their duty and deployments, worry-free.

“As long as the patient walks out 100 percent better than they were before, and the dentist is satisfied, then we’ve done what we were supposed to do,” said Mr. Ibarra.