Tommy Zhu had laid out a detailed plan for becoming a dentist. First, to gain a background in the profession, he enrolled in the Restorative Dentistry program at the New York City College of Technology. After graduation in 2003, the next step was to work as a denture technician to save money for dental school tuition.
That's when the plan fell apart, but only because he loved being a technician and forgot all about dental school. During Zhu's nine years in the field, he has worked in nearly all phases of denture and C&B fabrication; he finds his role as a ceramist to be the most gratifying. "Creating the shape, shade and function of a tooth also makes the ceramist an artist, architect and engineer. We make a great impact on a person's life," he says.
One experience—as a technician in an in-house laboratory—shaped Zhu's philosophy as a ceramist and even compelled him to create his own layering and staining technique. "That patient contact changed the way I looked at my work: I'm truly making teeth, not crowns," says Zhu. "I don't think you can get beautiful results with a simple two-powder buildup. My technique uses anywhere from six to 15 powders because you need that to mimic the many different colors and translucencies in natural teeth."
Because he was brought up by parents who repeatedly told him "education is the only way to success," Zhu earned his CDT in 2007 and the NBC's Technologist (TE) designation in 2008; he also plans to enroll in ASMDT's online MDT program next year.
But he's also aware that every day in the laboratory is an occasion to pick up something new. "On a daily basis, Tommy looks for opportunities to learn from the rest of the team," says Frank Belle, CDT, Fixed Team Leader at BonaDent Dental Laboratories. "Technicians like him who understand the importance of showing initiative and being part of an interactive learning process are essential to the future of our industry."