Technology You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

3D printer helps Kerrville dental lab serve patients better

Technician creating 3D rendering of dentures on computer

Patients in need of a dental appliance are getting out of the dentist’s chair and back to their lives faster than ever before thanks to advances in 3D printing technology. “3D printing is going to change the industry,” says Kyle Harrison, certified dental lab technician and manager of T&H Laboratory Inc. in Kerrville.

T&H Laboratory specializes in removable dental prosthetics like dentures, partial dentures and night guards and has had a 3D printer for about a year. While 3D printing isn’t quite perfect yet, Harrison says, it’s already beneficial. “So right now, the only holdup would be the material,” he says. “You can get exactly the appliance that you’re looking for, but you want that material to be strong, you want it to be FDA cleared, and you want it to hold up in a patient’s mouth.”

Close up of denturesWhile manufacturers work to improve the materials, the printer is upping Harrison’s productivity. “Something that might take me an hour to fabricate by hand, I can go over and spend 20 minutes on the computer designing it and then I get to do something else,” he says. “The printer might take 40 minutes to print, but I get to do something else while that’s being made. It’s saving me time, so that way, the patient doesn’t have to wait or may not need to go into the office so many times.”

Efficiency should increase as more dentists start replacing traditional molds with digital scans of patients’ mouths. Generally speaking, a patient would need to see a dentist an average of five times to complete the process. “With this technology of 3D printing and scanning, you’re able to skip some steps,” Harrison says. “It’s basically like another employee, because right now, with dental lab techs, it’s hard to find one, especially when you live in a small area and not a big city.”

Smiles are the family business

T&H Laboratory started as Turner Dental Lab in 2008, when Robert Dwain Turner hung out his shingle. Following Turner’s death in 2014, his family decided to honor his memory by keeping the business going.

Turner’s grandson, Kyle Harrison, began helping his grandfather when he was in high school. It wasn’t long before Harrison found himself making the three-hour drive from Portland to Kerrville a couple of times a month. “I cared for my grandfather, and I didn’t really like the fact that he had to work weekends because he didn’t really have help,” Harrison says. “It grew to me driving pretty much every other weekend coming to work. Some weekends, I would put in 30 hours from a late Friday to a Sunday.”

After graduating high school, Harrison received special dispensation from San Antonio College to complete the dental technician program simultaneous to his required classes. His grandfather’s health was failing, and Harrison wanted to finish his certifications as quickly as possible.

Harrison is a certified dental lab technician and now serves as the company’s treasurer and lab manager. His grandmother, Mona Turner, is the secretary, and his mother, Jennifer Harrison, is the company president. The business’s current name is short for Turner & Harrison Laboratory, an homage to its founder.