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ADA Laboratories comprise a wealth of often overlooked assets

April 15, 2013

Hands on: Engineering research assistant Henry Lukic (left) explains the dynamometer—developed in the ADA Laboratories to test handpiece torque and power—to Dr. Ralph Howell of Suffolk, Va. Dr. Howell and others say the labs are a must-see when in Chicago.
They may be tucked away on the fourth floor of ADA Headquarters, but the ADA Laboratories really stand out when it comes to dental research.

“It's one of those hidden member benefits that people don't really think about,” said Dr. Ralph Howell, a general dentist who practices in Suffolk, Va. “But the ADA is at the forefront of developing scientific methods for testing dental materials and equipment, and it's nice to have an association looking out for you.”

Dr. Howell took an opportunity—his third—to tour the labs in January with Dr. John Paul of Lakeland, Fla. It was Dr. Paul's first visit to the labs. They were at ADA Headquarters for a meeting of the ADA Council on Communications, of which both are members.

“I was very impressed with the scientific labs and the scientists therein,” Dr. Paul said. “My first thought was, I'm glad I'm on the communications council and a member of the House of Delegates so I can share some of their message. They may be one of the best kept secrets we have.”

A group of dental students from University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry visited the labs in early March as part of the ADA's Success Dental Student Programs.

Matthew Hamedani, a fourth-year dental student who is the Illinois State Dental Society delegate for UIC, said it was his first time visiting the labs. It held a few revelations for him: He didn't know so much research took place at ADA Headquarters, and he was impressed.

“It's important for us as dental students to see that there is an organization like the American Dental Association to safekeep our profession and the patients that we treat,” Mr. Hamedani said. “That goes from the political aspect to the benchside in keeping up with the most advanced research and techniques as well as making sure that the products that are on the market meet the Seal of the ADA. That's very paramount if you think about it.”

Dropping in: Drs. Ralph Howell (center) and John Paul (right) visit Hank Shepelak in an ADA lab.
Housed in the Division of Science, the ADA Laboratories include a machine shop and a staff that includes dentists, dental material specialists, microbiologists, chemists and engineers.

The labs' chemistry department tests fluoride levels for some of the products in the ADA Seal of Acceptance program. The labs evaluate the performance of dental materials according to standards and guidelines set by the ADA. The laboratories are also involved in developing tests that could be used to revise or develop new ADA standards.

Additionally, the labs staff has helped lead and provide the scientific basis for the ADA's Health Screening Program, which has screened more than 60,000 dental professionals since its introduction at the Annual Session in 1964. Clinical information collected from the dental health care team at the ADA's Annual Session screening has contributed to one of the largest scientific databases pertaining to potential health risks associated with practicing dentistry.

Fine adjustments: Senior laboratory technician Hank Shepelak adjusts the computerized 3-D milling machine in one of the ADA Laboratories.
The laboratories provide timely scientific findings on current and emerging public health issues identified by the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs and the ADA Research Agenda. The laboratories report the findings in peer-reviewed journals, presentations at scientific meetings and the ADA Professional Product Review, a quarterly online publication for clinicians.

“The ADA Laboratories are a key resource for members in several areas of research and testing,” said ADA President Robert Faiella. “For instance, they're behind the scientific foundation for the unbiased Professional Product Review evaluations that guide clinicians on the purchase and use of products in dental practice.”

Dr. Howell said that he's witnessed an evolution of the laboratories during his visits. “They're using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing technology to make parts and pieces for machinery, which they didn't have before,” he said. “Where they were making machinery and things by hand for lab testing, now they can use CAD-CAM technology to do it.”

On his first visit to the laboratories, Dr. Paul said he was so enamored with the computer numerical control milling machine, which makes 3-D parts, that he wanted to take it home. “I want one really bad,” he said with a laugh during a phone interview last month.

“I was amazed at what they're doing,” Dr. Paul said, assuming the ADA central office involved pushing paper and not benchwork. He was introduced to a new dynamometer device that is used to test dental handpiece performance. “I was floored. I had no idea we were doing anything like that.”

In addition to Seal product testing, the ADA Laboratories are currently evaluating products such as dental unit waterline treatment devices, bulk-fill composite materials, bisphenol A in dental materials, endodontic rotary files, apex locators, root canal irrigants, luting agents for ceramics, and disposable and hybrid high-speed handpieces for upcoming issues of the ADA PPR.

As did Drs. Howell and Paul, member dentists may schedule a tour of the ADA Laboratories when visiting ADA Headquarters. “We are on call to do a tour of the labs at a moment's notice,” said Carol Balabanow, a coordinator in the ADA research laboratories.

To arrange a tour, contact Bridget Baxter at ext. 2397.