When creating a crown or a bridge, technicians at Fort Gordon's Fisher Dental Laboratory may use several shades of porcelain to get the desired color and shading, according to Col. Edward Chesla, the head of the Army's only dental lab.
"It's an art, and it's a science," he said.
With a staff of almost 100, the dental lab is a busy place, filling orders for crowns, dentures, bridges and retainers needed by soldiers and their families all over the globe.
"We usually have about 1,000 crowns working at one time," said Col. Chesla.
If the number goes above 1,000, crowns are sometimes manufactured by outside dental labs, but that doesn't happen very often.
More than half the lab's staff are active-duty military. They've completed dental assistant training and are adding another specialty by training at the lab.
Creating crowns and other dental prosthetics is a multistep process that could begin as far away as Afghanistan or Iraq.
"We have dentists over there who take care of patients," said Col. Chesla.
Dentists in the field make impressions of teeth, which are sent back to Fort Gordon via Federal Express. Then the artisans at the post's dental lab take turns creating the needed piece.
The Fisher Dental Laboratory opened in 1978. At that time, the Army had four other dental labs.
Reach Charmain Brackett at firstname.lastname@example.org.