Lonni Thompson, founder and CEO of the Dublin-based boutique dental laboratory Image Gallery, has become a go-to for local dentists on the top materials, procedures and technologies in the industry.
Lonni Thompson founded her boutique dental laboratory 40 years ago, and her artistic sensibilities have kept her at the top of the industry. Her Dublin lab — Image Gallery — employs artists who craft crowns, bridges and implant abutments.
As president of the Ohio Dental Laboratory Association and a member of the National Association of Dental Laboratories board, Thompson has become a go-to for local dentists on the top materials, procedures and technologies in the industry. She recently spoke to Columbus CEO about the evolution of dentistry as technology has advanced.
Q: What made Image Gallery unique when you started?
A: If you think about it, your smile is one of the most important things you have. It’s one of the first things people notice. If you’re making one tooth, you have to match all those other colors in there — it’s not just white. There’s translucency and shadings. Everybody’s different. You have to be able to match exactly. It’s really important to have a natural-looking smile. That has evolved, and there are different ways of making teeth.
The dentist I was with when I started was a prosthodontist — a specialist — which was different. I actually got to see patients and see my work in the mouth. That’s what I wanted. Most people who make teeth are introverted, but I’m not. I need people. Having an artistic eye also helped.
Q: How has digital technology changed the industry over the past 10 years?
A: Laboratories got into it almost before dentists did. As we got better at it, there were more dentists getting what they call an intraoral scanner, where they scan everything instead of (using) that goop. The nice thing is that if something’s off, we just shoot the picture back to them and say, “This is what’s wrong,” and they can call the patient or catch them before they leave and say, “Does this work?” or just rescan it. It saves a lot of time for the patient.
Laboratories are now also being called upon to help dentists with materials. This world has kind of gone crazy, and dentists can’t learn it all. So we’re now part of that process. We’ve become part of the team to make sure that the patient gets exactly what they need.
Q: What can you do with those patient scans?
A: (The dental technicians) get the scan and design the teeth that are going to go in whatever we’re doing. We can also use them to print a 3D model that the dentist can use to prep and that the patient can use for a trial run. We know if we need to tweak anything.
We also do the history and the research to make sure we’re getting the best materials to put in the patient’s mouth. We work really hard to make sure we’re getting materials that look like teeth. Dentists will send us the pictures — they have their iPads in front of them — so we can actually match.
Q: Has the dental laboratory field grown or gotten smaller over the years?
A: Laboratories are going by the wayside now. It went from 7,900 laboratories in 2017 down to 6,000 in about a year through consolidation. There are not as many boutique labs like ours that can give that better service and are better trained.
The industry is definitely shifting. A lot of these smaller labs can’t afford the digital work or the time to learn how to do the digital work. It’s going to be interesting what happens in the next five to six to 10 years.
Dental schools also aren’t teaching laboratory skills anymore. With digital, anybody can set up a computer, but if you don’t know anatomy, if you don’t know ecology, you don’t know coloring, (the product will suffer).
Q: Why is it important for dental labs to be certified?
A: I’ve been a certified technician for 41 years. But there’s another process your lab goes through to make sure you have the qualifications to make teeth. In Ohio, anyone can do this. There are no educational requirements.
I’m president of the Ohio Dental Laboratory Association, and we’ve been working on a state registration for dental laboratories. I’m also on the board of the National Association of Dental Laboratories, and we’re trying to do it nationally. There are only seven states right now that are registered.
Q: What is coming next for the field of dentistry?
A: 3D printing is not where it needs to be, but soon it’s going to be a big component of dentistry. It’s the new frontier.
Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO, a sister publication to The Dispatch. For the full story on the Image Gallery, go to www.columbusceo.com.