Dan O'Rourke was chugging along with his successful, 20-year-old lab in Dublin, New Hampshire and attending advanced education programs to continually enhance his craft. Then, in 2004, a dentist made a suggestion that changed the course of his business and reignited his passion for dental technology.
The suggestion? Bioesthetic dentistry. This approach to treatment considers not only a patient's teeth, but his jaw joints and head and neck muscles, and maintains that problems—such as TMJ pain, chronic headaches or damage to teeth—occur when these components aren't working in biological harmony. The concept was pioneered by Dr. Robert Lee, a biologist-turned-dentist who, in the 1970s, studied hundreds of older patients who maintained healthy teeth with minimal treatment or wear. He determined that the ideal dental model for optimal health is based on three principles: stable condylar position, correct coupling of upper and lower anterior teeth, and biologically natural tooth form.
"With bioesthetics, it's not just about fixing a smile with a few veneers. While that does make a patient feel good about himself, bioesthetics gets to the root of the problem: why are your teeth wearing out or cracking in the first place? It's about making a complete diagnosis of the patient," says O'Rourke, CDT, BDT, owner of Daniel O'Rourke Dental Studio.
O'Rourke began his journey with bioesthetics at OBI (Orognathic Bioesthetics International), a non-profit organization in Keizer, Oregon. He completed all four levels of its educational program, spending nearly three years traveling to weekend courses once every other month or so, learning the philosophy and how to support bioesthetic dentists in treatment planning and case design, as well as gaining a greater understanding of natural tooth forms. The fourth level of the course—which spans a year and a half—culminates in each dentist and technician completing a full mouth reconstruction on a live patient.
But O'Rourke was so passionate about the work, he went even further, earning his BDT (Bioesthetic Dental Technician) designation through OBI—becoming one of only 11 certified BDT technicians in the world. This required the completion of additional level-four sessions and a demonstrated mastery of natural tooth form. "After 30 years as a technician, I had to open my mind to a totally new thought process; for instance, I had to relearn waxing from the ground up," says O'Rourke, who is now an assistant faculty member at OBI.
Another aspect of bioesthetics that's a particular draw to O'Rourke is its emphasis on partnership. "I've been to many educational programs that pair up technicians and dentists but the teams at OBI form tighter relationships than I've seen anywhere else because they really need to lean on each other," he says. Because of those relationships, O'Rourke started getting work—from full mouth reconstructions to single units—from bioesthetic dentists. He still does traditional cases for clients who have been with him since the early years of his lab, but estimates that, in 2009, a full 50% of his caseload will be bioesthetic. He credits his new niche for making 2008 his most profitable year in business and already has tens of thousands of dollars' worth of work prescheduled for this year.
O'Rourke knows that other technicians might be stunned to hear he can earn as much as $15,000 for a full mouth reconstruction, but points out the exorbitant amount of time and effort that goes into each one of these cases, including the planning and constant communication with the dentist. Before any crown and bridge work is even planned, he fabricates an orthotic to stabilize the patient and, through a series of bite registrations, models and measurements, works with the dentist to diagnose the problem. "Our cases are finished to an eight-micron tolerance and when compared to everyday dentistry, that's hard to even grasp."
While establishing this niche for his laboratory has required a huge commitment of time and money, O'Rourke says it's been more than worth it. "I could have continued to crank out single molars and still make a living similar to what I do now. But that's not what this journey has been about; it's about changing people's lives," says O'Rourke. "If I had to, I'd do it all over again tomorrow."
Editor's note: OBI (Orognathic Bioesthetics International) is the only organization committed exclusively to teaching Dr. Lee's bioesthetic philosophy. Several hundred dentists and technicians have participated in some level of the program. For information, call 800-438-6441 or 503-316-1366.