If you were to play a game of ‘spot the denture’ in 2017, you’d probably lose.
Just ask Denise, the office manager at Lacey Denture Clinic. When new patients walk in, she’ll sometimes think, “They’re going to need an x-ray because they don’t have dentures.” And often, it turns out that she’s wrong.
“People are used to the idea that dentures are for elderly people and you can pick them out right away,” says Dr. Kurt Toolson, the clinic’s owner. “They’re so well done now that you can’t even tell. There are also a lot of younger people that you wouldn’t think of as having dentures.”
Some people are taken aback that anyone even needs dentures anymore, he says. “Over the last thirty years, children have started getting trained pretty early about dental hygiene and taking care of themselves, so some people are surprised that there’s a need for a specialist.”
The need is always there, however. Toolson’s clients tend to be older, but many are in their 30s and 40s as well. They also include people with genetic dental issues or those who have come from other countries that place less emphasis on oral hygiene.
Dentures offer a number of benefits for such patients, starting with affordability. “For some people, it can be a financial concern when they need dental work but it’s prohibitively expensive for them,” says Toolson. “We’re able to fill a need because we’re less expensive than more comprehensive dentistry. We also have found that more people qualify for Medicaid insurance in the past couple of years and dentures are something they qualify for more easily.”
Other clients may have tried traditional dentistry, sometimes for decades, but not gotten the results they want. “As time goes by and they need to have dental work redone or something breaks, they become increasingly frustrated with the amount of time and money they have to spend trying to maintain their own teeth,” says Toolson. “We give them an alternative at a lesser cost.”
For those whose smile may have been disfigured through a collision or other trauma, dentures can be the only viable option. Toolson cites the example of a local entertainer who had been involved in an accident. “This person didn’t have any other alternative than dentures,” he explains. “The final result was actually better than what they’d had before and they felt confident again about getting up in front of an audience.”
It’s not uncommon for clients to reaction emotionally when their dentures are delivered. “I’ve had so many people cry and get up and hug me,” says Denise. “They say, ‘Thank you for returning my smile. I can eat again. I can smile again.’ It definitely impacts their lives.”
Patients appreciate the comprehensive set of services available at Lacey Denture Clinic, which eliminates the need for multiple visits to different practices. “All the work, from start to finish, is done here,” says Toolson. “We have our in-house lab downstairs. Patients like the idea that they don’t have to go and see a bunch of different specialists.”
While the clinic has been a fixture at its current location for several decades, Toolson purchased it in 2006. After graduating from dental school at the University of Washington, he practiced general dentistry for ten years. His father was a prosthodontist (a dentist specialized in the restoration and replacement of teeth) who worked at the university and taught courses in dentistry for almost 40 years.
When the clinic’s previous owner began to consider selling it, he contacted Toolson’s father to ask if anyone at the university might be interested in buying it. “My dad contacted me and after taking everything into account, this is where we ended up,” he says. “When I first bought the practice he worked with us for a while until he retired a few years ago.”
The industry has changed since Toolson first got involved, with an increased emphasis on implants in both general dentistry and denture work. “More people know about implants and are asking about them,” says Toolson. Another shift resulted from a new state law that made it possible for lab technicians, also known as denturists, to make dentures without direct supervision from a licensed dentist. “Since that law was enacted, a lot more people who have been lab technicians have matriculated into the dental field and have their own practices,” he says. “There’s more competition in the industry.”
Toolson finds the ability to make a real difference in patients’ lives rewarding. “Sometimes, with regular dentistry, the little things you do are so microscopic, they aren’t even noticeable for the patient,” he says, “whereas when you get done creating a denture for somebody who’s been in need and they’re so happy, it feels great. I know I’ve really helped somebody and made their life better and that’s incredibly satisfying.”
To learn more about Lacey Denture Clinic, visit the Lacey Denture Clinic’s website or call 360-491-0804.