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15th July 2016

In the Spotlight: David Smith

Laboratory magazine Editor Andy Myall interviews dental technician David Smith, esteemed former judge of the Laboratory Awards, managing director at Phoenix Dental Castings and council member of the GDC.

What or who made you first decide to become a dental technician?
DS: This was sort of embarrassing. I had gone on a careers visit to Manchester Polytechnic for a medical laboratory technician and got with the wrong group of dental technicians. I decided then this seem much more interesting so it was a good mistake.

When did you qualify, and can you tell us how your early career developed prior to setting up your lab?
DS: I chose to do the full time course at Manchester Polytechnic with the sandwich year at the Dental School. Looking back now I think I was very lucky with the best of both worlds of knowledge and competence based learning. I still have great admiration for Les Ward and all the lecturers at the Poly and the hospital who I believed delivered a first class dental technician education. I was employed at the Manchester Dental School after qualifying, moving eventually to two different private dental laboratories before finally moving from Manchester to Exeter.



What kind of work does your laboratory carry out, and what do you feel sets your work apart from the competition?
DS: Phoenix is a large dental laboratory with 48 staff on two sites, Exeter and one near Oxford. For many years it was great to be a full-service laboratory and have a good development program for new staff. I think the greatest attribute we have is the development of so many excellent technicians and a reputation for a consistent quality and good service.

How do you stay on top of the latest developments in products and techniques, and at what stage do you decide to integrate them into your lab?
DS: This is a constant headache. The investment in new technology, especially for a large laboratory, used to be reasonably cost effective. Drudging around the different dental exhibitions, especially Cologne, and bombarded by the dental press and the ‘local rep’ was usually enough to keep in the know and be persuaded to invest modest sums in new kit. Not today however. With digital technology the learning curve is huge, the cost even larger and the risk greater still.

Who were your mentors as you learnt your trade, and are there any valuable nuggets of advice they passed on that have stayed with you since?
DS: I have so many people to thank in my own career that it is too greater list than I could do justice to here. I do owe a great debt of gratitude to the people I work with and my many friends involved in dental laboratories, dental politics and the whole dental profession and industry.

How can technicians best develop an effective relationship with their dentist clients?
DS: A relationship is a two-way process of trust, respect, communication, feedback, reflection and mutual benefit. Any of those component parts missing greatly affects how effective it is. Someone once told me, ‘You deserve the clients you keep.’

With enhancements in dental technology, is there still a heavy ‘creative art’ element to the job?
DS: Very much so. So far much of the technology stretches the range, scope, predictability, precision and makes some very difficult processes much easier and cheaper. The skill and knowledge to design a successful outcome still belongs in the technician’s hands.

Professionally, what are you most proud of?
DS: Being the first dental technician to serve on the GDC council.

What has been your biggest challenge in your career?
DS: Defending an FtP case against me whilst I was a council member.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
DS: The diversity. Managing the laboratory, sitting on the council and its committees and teaching undergraduate dentists at the University.

What do you enjoy the least/get most frustrated by?
DS: The decline in our profession. The numbers of technicians being educated and trained is probably now at its lowest since I became a technician and that is very sad as it not because of demand; the number of people who require complex dentistry, involving laboratory work, is greater than ever. Access to complex dentistry is restricted and unaffordable to most people who really need it.

How do you relax in your spare time?
DS: I love drama, art, music and film. So from frequent theatre, exhibition and museum visits to Glastonbury Festival.

Where do you see dental technology going in the next decade or so?
DS: More invasive technology, probably making dental technology cheaper and needing fewer technicians. A closer working relationship between dental technicians and dentists who concentrate on complex work as the level of undergraduate dentist training in technology is have knowledge of rather than an understanding. There are real shortages of good, knowledgeable, competent dental technicians. I hope more clinical involvement maybe by integrating the clinical dental technician training with dental technician education.

What are your top tips for maintaining a successful laboratory?
DS: Concentrate on your strengths. Try to pick customers you work well with. Difficult customers tend to stay difficult. Be fair to the people you work with. Remember you work to live and not live to work.

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