Marion tooth-maker specializes putting smiles on folks

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
You can start feeling better because the dental technician in Hillsboro who makes false teeth can also carve a peach-seed monkey.

If that notions makes you smile, Sam Johnson would be pleased because putting good smiles on people is a lot of what Johnson is all about in life.

That’s true whether he’s making comfortable teeth to fit a person’s complexion and grin or reciting the cowboy poetry he writes.

Johnson “grew up with teeth” for more than chewing-that is, he began working for El Dorado technician Chuck Baber in the seventh grade in a “neighborhood one-man lab.” Johnson ran orders to dentists and helped with things after Baber realized the boy who was hanging around was truly interested.

“I was exposed early,” Johnson said. “Chuck’s retired now but still does a few orders out of his home. He’s the one who got me started in this business, and I’ll never forgive him.”

As for the poetry, Johnson can’t say for sure when he began with rhyming.

“It just came naturally, and I could always do it,” he said.

When he heard about cowboy poetry, it was a natural fit because Johnson said he always had an interest in horses. He still drives his Standardbred buggy horse, Baxter.

Johnson recited his second most favorite poem for this article because he said the first is too long for a newspaper: “Some people ride an appaloosa, but Lord I don’t know how. I guess they’re too poor to ride a quarter horse and too proud to ride a cow.”

When Johnson became an adult, Baber’s business didn’t look like it was going to be busy enough for two men. Johnson married Paula, who is now the charge nurse at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro, and began working jobs in the oil fields and aircraft factories.

Johnson said his heart stayed with the artistry and independence of the tooth-making business, so he took a night job to allow him to work with Baber in the daytime, without pay, to learn everything he needed to know to go into business for himself.

At the age of 24, he opened his own lab in Newton in November 1968.

“But there wasn’t a lot of support from the dentists there,” he said. “They were already used to taking their orders to Wichita.”

Business was so slow, Johnson sat around solving part of his craving for artistry by carving wood-a monkey from a peach pit, a wooden bolt and nut that screw together and a wooden chain. He still keeps those items at his current office.

“I was there six months before I came to Marion in May 1969,” Johnson said. “I got orders from Dr. (Henry) Loewen and Dr. (Gerald) Vinduska at my new office. In 1991 when Dr. (R.J.) Tippin built his new offices, I moved my operation into the back of the building in Hillsboro.”

Johnson said he still likes the independent artistry of being in business for himself. He said many dental technicians are working in a larger company where they only get to do a part of the process.

“I get a lot of variation in a day, and I don’t spend more than 50 percent of my time sitting or standing,” he said.

Johnson has to make each person’s teeth to match their skin color, the shading of their natural teeth, to come together in the jaws with the fit they are used to for comfort and chewing ability.

“Teeth are different in size and shape,” he said. “You don’t want to put great big teeth in a little woman.”

It takes hours of work in material and consultation. Johnson said the process begins with the dentist taking a tooth impression in alginate material. He pours a model from the impression to make a custom tray.

The doctor uses the custom to take a second impression using the custom to get a “more accurate and refined impression.”

Johnson will then pour a base plate with wax to hold the impressions in place to get the vertical range of the teeth right for proper opening and closing. The base plates are mounted on a hinged articulator to mimic the jaws to get the bite right.

The teeth are set in wax, and Johnson curves and shapes the base to the mouth shape. The model can be tried with the patient, and Johnson can warm the wax to move the teeth around for a better fit.

In the final steps, material is formed in a denture flask with plaster, and boiling water is used to separate the mold. The acryllic teeth are pressure-clamped in place, and the device is heated at 180 degrees for 10 hours to cure before final polishing.

When a patient wants a gold crown, Johnson will make a wax pattern, fine carve it, and in the final process use a centrifuge to invest the gold into the final mold.

Johnson said he enjoys horse get-togethers or being with his grandchildren outside work. His daughter, Tonya Hodson at Marion, has two sons; his daughter, Tiffany Harper at Cheney, has three daughters and one son.

He is refurbishing a 1949 Ferguson T020 tractor.

Johnson bought Baxter from a Yoder man who brings back trained Standard-bred buggy horses from Pennsylvania that didn’t make the grade for harness racing. Although Baxter comes from refined stock, Johnson said the horse doesn’t have a snooty longer name except occasionally “Dammit, Baxter.”

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