Dental Masters: From Past to Present
Our Classic American Roots
By Leonard J. Kulwiec, CDT
The year was 1939. I was employed as a part-time delivery and clean-up boy for Janulis Dental Lab on the southwest side of Chicago. The mode of transportation was street trolley and walking. Most dental offices were located on second floors above corner drugstores or retail shops. Trolley fare was a “3 cents token” or nickel, and with a transfer slip from a conductor, one could “zigzag” in one direction across all of Chicago.
It was the time of “Vulcanite,” or rubber dentures; “Herculite,” or celluloid dentures; gold sheet “tin can” crowns; gold wire clasps; hand-flipped centrifugal buckets; and the connecting medium was plaster: plaster impressions, plaster models, and plaster for articulating flasking. Plaster dust littered the floor and all sweepings were saved in empty barrels for possible gold scrap. All technicians wore a separate pair of lab shoes and then changed to street shoes to go home. It was “woe” and “big trouble” to delivery persons who tracked white plaster footprints up linoleum stairs and on shining linoleum waiting room floors of dentist accounts.
All technology was learned in-house depending on skill acceptance by the owner and customer, positive work attitudes, and a desire to learn more.
Since dentists’ work hours back then were from afternoon to evenings, emergency and repair work lasted until 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. If the dentist lived in your vicinity, you could be called to deliver the return.
In 1943, I was drafted into the U.S. Navy. After basic training, I was stationed in the Great Lakes Naval Dental Lab. The Navy selected technicians with experience in commercial dental labs. The Lab was called “Building 600” and had a complement of 150 dental techs. The strategy was to complete dentures for approximately one to two recruit companies of sailors a week while the recruits were going through basic training. A company was 50 to 100 men.
The laboratory worked on a department rotation of 2 months per department and then on to another skill level. All work was quality controlled by Navy Chiefs and First Class Petty Officers, then graded and passed on. Every tech learned to “do it the Navy way” for form, function, and esthetics. I have always felt the Navy techs were the best trained.
I put in a request for sea duty and found myself transferred to the Medical Division. I spent one year in the South Pacific on landing ship L.S.T. 355 as “Independent Duty Pharmacist Mate First Class.”
After WWII, I went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked part-time in dental labs. Wedding bells chimed in 1948, and an opportunity to start my own lab in 1950: Professional Arts Dental Lab specializing in cast gold and chrome-cobalt partials. Technology made great advances and the “new way” of training technicians required finding sharper minds connected to smarter hands.
The laboratory industry needed certification of skills and greater knowledge of materials used. Upon moving to California, I started two new dental labs. This gave me an opportunity to train new technicians and retrain “used” technicians. Looking back, I now recognize that quality standards require a constant demand for excellence and also confidence (or pride) that what you do should always be the best for your customers.
In 1975, I sold my patents on substitute alloys and spent 50% of my time on developing new products and methods. They say research is a connection to prior art and knowing how to find and make the connection for common benefit.
In 1980, it was my son Michael’s turn to lead in the dental laboratory industry. I retired and moved to the San Diego area.
Today, Dental Masters has moved light years in technical advancement. Mike has surrounded himself with a winning team, often comparing himself to a coach, and a winning coach always tells his players, “When you are well-trained and disciplined in your effort, playing (working) is fun. The message is, “When everyone is working as a team and when everyone performs well, it’s fun!”
Dental Masters Today
By Michael Kulwiec, CDT
When I read my father’s story about his early days in the dental lab business and the simplicity of the world in which he came of age, I am reminded of the values and determination that nourished his work ethic. Simple but essential to high quality standards and sustainability is pride in a job well done. It is upon that basic but solid ethic that our company and many businesses in the US have grown.
With Dad’s dedication to his business and the long hours that he worked, the “dental lab owner gene” became a part of me. After graduating from the University of Southern California in 1979 with a major in Business Administration and History, I joined my father’s company and began working. I earned my CDT in 1982.
Ten years later, when Dad retired, I had the knowledge in dental lab management that I needed to develop a practical plan. I committed the next decade to transforming the lab’s partials and dentures specialty to become the full-service lab Dental Masters is today.
In tandem with our growth in product and materials, the reality of a team working together made the opening of our training academy in 2000 a natural, ensuring that the team culture would become the keystone of a premier quality, service-focused laboratory.
From the beginning, my father created the team environment from a core value: Take care of staff and take care of customers, and success will naturally follow. That culture is what drives Dental Masters and will continue to be our core value as the future unfolds.