I am privileged to be able to make a living by helping people to love their smiles. I do this by providing prosthetic teeth for cosmetic purposes, including crowns, bridges and veneers, as well as implant-supported restorations. I am a dental technician and my job title is ‘master ceramist’, a term used for artists specialised in crowns and bridges who reproduce natural aesthetics by mimicking nature with unmatched skills and knowledge. I am often asked why I’ve chosen this career path, and I always state, ‘ I wanted to become a doctor and an artist at the same time since I was a kid, and being what I am now is a fusion of the two with harmony’.
My educational journey to become a ceramist began in Japan. I graduated from a 2-year vocational school in dental technology (which is equivalent to TAFE in Australia) to obtain a licence in Amagasaki, a city in Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, in 1998. While most of my colleagues chose to go straight into a job after the vocational school, I was successfully admitted at the Osaka University Dental Hospital to further my education. It was logical for me to invest my time in obtaining a high level of skills and knowledge, rather than slowly climbing up the ladder by slaving away at something basic (i.e., being part of the bunch/cookie-cutter). The official term of the course was 1 year, but I ended up studying for nearly 3 years while determining which area I’d be most passionate about in dental technology. These areas included dentures and chrome dentures, crowns and bridges, and orthodontics.
During my time as an intern dental technician at the Osaka University Dental Hospital, treating actual patients, I developed a strong interest in highly demanding cases, focusing on meeting the patients’ aesthetic demands. To begin with, I studied the composition of natural dentition through resin/composite materials. In Japan, resin or composite materials are covered under insurance for patients, but not the ceramics/porcelain restorations. Thus, students are given resin/composite restorations to practise on and learn about tooth structure. Then, as their skills grow, they can shift to more technically challenging material such as porcelain/ceramics. By the end of my final year of the studies, I had constructed a full-arch sample of porcelain fused metal (PFM) (Figs 1–8). The presented photos are the scans of the authentic photo-slides taken back in 2000.
Fig 9 shows the reference I received from the Osaka University Dental Hospital before moving to Sydney, Australia, and it reads as follows:
“My name is Akinobu Ogata, and I am a technical training officer at the Osaka University Dental Hospital. I am delighted to provide a reference for Yugo Hatai as he leaves to live in Australia.
Yugo Hatai was attached to the Osaka University Dental Hospital as a trainee dental technician for two years and nine months, acquiring a great deal of clinical experience during that period. From the moment he entered the course, his technical capabilities and his attitude towards his chosen profession were far in advance of those of his fellow trainees. His excellence was such that it was difficult to believe that he had only just graduated from Dental Collage.
In his first year, he accomplished many more clinical cases than his fellow trainees. In the Crown & Bridge area, his cases included metal inlays, crowns, bridges and resin facing crowns. His cases in the denture area included partial dentures, full dentures, maxillary prosthetics, orthodontics and chromes.
In his second year, he was the only trainee from Osaka University Dental Hospital selected by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to participate in a tour of Okinawa to provide dental treatment. His work during the one-month tour received the highest commendation ever from the Okinawa Prefectural Government, and the dentists who accompanied the tour also expressed high praise and confidence in his abilities. Clinically, he honed both his aesthetic and functional abilities to a high level, and he grew greatly as a dental technician, producing porcelain fused to metal (PFM) restorations, that made both the patients and dentists with whom he worked very happy.
In his third year, he mastered crowns, bridges and implants, working primarily with ceramics and successfully achieved a level of experience and performance that is extremely rare among our trainees to date. Based on the experience that he accumulated in his training over a period of two and nine months, he created a sample of a full-upper PFM restoration that took into consideration aesthetics, biology and function, achieving a high degree of technical and aesthetic excellence in his work.
In terms of his character, Yugo Hatai approaches his work with an uncompromising seriousness and he also has a strong desire to improve his skills. Although he has a cooperative nature, he also has a strong will and is not easily swayed by others.
All of us here at the Osaka University Dental Hospital are very sorry to lose him, but we with him every success in Australia.
Technical Training Officer, Akinobu Ogata
Technical Training Officer, Jum Kamiya
Technical Training Officer, Takatoshi Mori
Director of Dental Technology Department, Hiroyuki Nose
28 December 2000.”
The reference above brought back some good memories and made me laugh that my personality hasn’t changed whatsoever!
Fig 10 shows my certificate of registration as a dental technician in NSW, obtained in February 2001. I must admit that the registration exam was quite intense – if my memory is correct, it was a 3-day exam: day 1 being a written exam, and days 2 and 3 being the practical/technical component comprising a single central incisor and upper first molar wax-up, a 3-unit metal bridge, a partial denture (from design to finish), a full-denture set-up/wax-up, and a choice between either an orthodontic wire application or a chrome denture design and wax-up to spruing. Thanks to my experience and comprehensive skills obtained at the Osaka University Dental Hospital, I managed to pass the exam at the first attempt, which was very rare in NSW, with a success rate of only 20–30% for Australian TAFE students at the time.
As of 2008, there is no requirement to be registered as a dental technician with the Dental Board of Australia. I struggle to see the benefits of this deregistration in Australia. It suggests that anyone from the street can walk into a dental laboratory and start constructing prosthetic restorations, which makes no sense. Dental technology is an integral element of the dental profession and, as such, dental technicians should be registered in all jurisdictions under the proposed ‘National Registration and Accreditation Scheme’.
Thanks to the level of education and skills I had obtained, I managed to land a job at Race Dental – one of the largest dental laboratories in Australia – as a head ceramist to start with, and later managing the boutique department until my departure in 2008. I was the youngest ceramist, and it was only possible to become the head of the pack from the beginning of my career by investing my time in education as my primary choice, rather than getting a job with mediocre skills and knowledge straight after vocational school. I have proved the importance of education through my experience, and thus, registration must be in place to ensure that regulation is maintained through education. Education providers such as Griffith University (QLD), Meadowbank and Randwick TAFE (NSW), RMIT University (VIC), Southbank Institute of TAFE (QLD) and TAFE SA Gilles Plains Campus should be highly valued as setting a national benchmark to reduce the risk of harm to the health and safety of the public.
Fig 11 shows the full-arch sample captured in 2021. The artwork still holds a lot of memories from the era of me being a student at the Osaka University Dental Hospital, and it is proudly displayed in a fancy cabinet as one of my life-time treasures.
Council of Regulating Authorities for Dental Technicians and Dental Prosthetists Australia and New Zealand. Inquiry into Health Practitioner Regulation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010. https://www.aph.gov.au/DocumentStore.ashx?id=8eaa5a8b-4f65-4b77-bbf8-a3eb35eaa531