Going dental

Published on June 29th, 2012
Going dental

Robyn Coventry studied Dental Technology and is now the Sales and Marketing Manager for 3M’s Dental Division. We chatted to her about the real colour of teeth and the subjects you require to rock a dental career.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Epworth High School in Pietermaritzburg

What did you study after school?
I studied Dental Technology at the Durban University of Technology… Many people haven’t heard of this degree, which basically involves working in a laboratory to create all the crowns, bridges and false teeth that a dentist uses. They even make the retainer or plate you have to wear when your braces (finally!) come off.

What school subjects do you need to study Dental Technology?
You need Physical Science, so you can understand the chemistry behind the different dental materials… and the better your marks, the better you’ll do when it’s time to study Physics and Chemistry in first-year. You will also need to do well at Maths, so pay attention in class!

What kind of person would make a great dental technologist?
You need to be:
-       good with your hands
-       able to work under pressure
-       good at paying attention to detail
-       creative and artistic
-       happy to work on your own most of the time

Dental Technology is a solid science… but it’s also a creative art. When you’re making a crown, you use porcelain powder to build something that looks like a real tooth. And although you think teeth are white, there are actually many different shades, so you need a good eye for colour. If you’re interested in this field but you’d prefer to work more closely with people, you might want to look into becoming a dentist or maybe an oral hygienist.

If dental crowns are made of porcelain – the same stuff they use to make plates – how come they don’t crack easily?
There are many different types of porcelain, and some are much stronger than others – it all depends on the way the particles are arranged inside the material. Once a crown has been made, it gets baked for extra strength, and some crowns are even fitted over a core of metal for reinforcement. Having said that, just like a plate is brittle, many crowns will crack if you drop them on the floor… Luckily, we don’t go around dropping our teeth on the floor!

How did you get from studying Dental Technology to becoming Sales and Marketing Manager of 3M’s Dental Division?
After finishing my degree, I worked in a South African dental lab and then moved to the UK and worked in a lab there for two years. On returning to South Africa, I wanted to get into pharmaceutical sales but I didn’t have any sales experience, so I got a job that wasn’t ideal (we sold everything from cleaning chemicals to toilet paper), but it taught me how to deal with any customer.

My newfound sales experience enabled me to join 3M as a sales rep for the Dental Division. A few years later, I moved into a technical position, then into a marketing position, and then finally into my current position. It’s been a long and exciting journey, and it just goes to show how creativity and hard work can open doors to many different jobs, depending on what you want to do. Whatever that is, I say go for it!