VA Medical Center has new technology for dental patients

IRON MOUNTAIN – Veterans who receive dental services at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center will not have to put up with gooey impressions or have to wait for crowns anymore, thanks to new technology.

Through the VA’s Innovation Fund Program, the Iron Mountain-based medical center recently received a completely integrated, state-of-the-art system that allows for computer aided digital imaging and onsite milling for crowns, bridges and other restorative work all in one appointment.

“This is great for our Veterans who can now have a digital impression made of their teeth, without the traditional material, and receive the crown in one visit to the medical center,” said Dr. Kim Recla, Chief of Dental Service at the medical center.

Eli Heikkila, a Vietnam Army Veteran from Iron River, was one of the first VA patients to benefit from this new technology. The digital imaging of his teeth took approximately 20 minutes and then he was invited back to watch his new crown being milled, which only took 10 minutes.

Typically, it takes up to two months to receive a crown or other reconstructive work using conventional methods because impressions need to be sent to an outside lab.

“This saves the Veteran a significant amount of time and travel cost, since they only have to come here once for the whole process, from getting the impression to inserting the permanent crown,” said Recla.

The Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is the only VA facility that provides dental services in the Upper Peninsula and northeastern Wisconsin. As a result, Veteran patients who are eligible for VA dental benefits may have to travel up to four hours to receive dental care.

The system used by the medical center, known as Ceramic Reconstruction Acquisition Center (CEREC AC), uses a full color 3D OmniCam camera to capture digitally what is in the mouth clinically and then transfer it via radio signal to the milling unit in the dental lab. It is the only system that looks at adjacent teeth and makes a tooth design that will replicate the patient’s anatomy as opposed to a pre-fabricated designed.

There is also cost savings for the taxpayer.

“There are significant savings using this technology, such as the costs of conventional impression material, lab costs, production time, costs associated with the disinfecting and setting up of the treatment room for multiple appointments and reprocessing of the reusable dental equipment,” said Marian Johnson, a Registered Dental Assistant at the VA medical center.

Johnson is the employee who researched and successfully submitted the application for the innovation funding from VA to purchase this beneficial technology.

“It is very gratifying to know that our employees are seeking to provide the best medical and dental care to our Veterans, and taking the time to submit ideas and initiatives to do just that,” said Jim Rice, Medical Center Director.