As Stephen McGrew sits in front of his computer screen, he marvels at how technology has propelled his business into a whole different sphere. While he talks, he spins an image on the screen. It’s amazingly detailed and magnified, and it allows McGrew to be the best at what he does.
What McGrew is looking so intently at is an image of someone’s teeth. Why, you ask?
Because McGrew creates bridges and crowns for local dentists to use to repair dental problems in their patients’ mouths. The technology allows him to strike a level of detail that wasn’t possible before, back when crowns and bridges were all created by hand.
McGrew, 52, and his wife, Dianna, own City Center Crown & Bridge Lab on Thimble Shoals Boulevard in Oyster Point. They have been in the business for more than a decade. When they first started, technology was nowhere to be found.
Now, using a 3-shape scanner, they use images taken by a dentist, feed them into a scanner and watch them appear on the computer screen in amazing detail. From there, McGrew is able to create bridges, crowns and implants to fit perfectly, as there is almost no margin for error with the technology. It’s a much more exacting science than when they used plaster molds and had to use their hands to make even the most complicated bridges and crowns. Some are still made by hand, depending on the material used, but the majority are designed on the screen.
Crowns are used by dentists to cover or “cap” a tooth that has problems. A bridge fills the gap created by one or more missing teeth. These devices are made in labs based on models and images of a patient’s teeth and then sent back to the dentist to install in the patient’s mouth.
McGrew is on the cutting edge of technology.
“Only a handful of people in Virginia are doing it like this,” he says. “If you’re not using the latest and greatest, you’re going to get left behind.”
Crowns and bridges can be made of many materials, from porcelain to gold. With the help of technology, McGrew is able to make them with zirconia, a material that is very durable and lasting in a patient’s mouth. Since it is one material throughout, it’s unlikely to break or chip. McGrew also offers patients the ability to pick the exact “tooth” color so that the device he creates matches the rest of their teeth.
That, along with the elevated technological process, makes the patient the winner. “It’s so much better,” McGrew says. “Less adjustments for the dentist; less time for the patient. And there is no metal in the patient’s mouth.”
Once McGrew creates the dental device using the images on the screen, he sends the files to a milling center, where they are crafted of the zirconia and baked at 1,700 degrees for several hours. They are then sent back to McGrew and delivered to the dentist.
“It’s really hard to break these. If they’re done right, you’ll be buried with it,” he says with a smile.
For McGrew, the new technology saves him time. Once the images are scanned, it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete a bridge or crown.
“It used to take six to eight hours,” he says. “Now I can go from zero to hero.”
McGrew says that the technology is key in terms of being able to compete in the dental market.
“It’s our attempt to keep dentists using local labs,” he says.
McGrew, who learned the business as a second career, was a pump station supervisor for Hampton Roads Sanitation District before following his wife into the dental world. He says the technology he uses actually taps into his mechanical side.
“There’s a lot of attention to detail,” he says.
While McGrew sits in front the computer, his wife works in a different room on crowns and bridges that can’t be created with technology. She uses her hands and works old-school style. McGrew prides himself on being a people person. He enjoys going out and talking with dentists and learning their needs.
When he’s in the office, McGrew is kept company by his trusty canine partner Dak, a boxer named after Dak Prescott, a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Dak, who also loves people, is integral to the business, down to having his name on the lease of the building.
Outside the office, the McGrews have two children and three grandchildren. Family is everything to them.
“Ninety percent of our time off is spent with the kids,” he says.
TO THE POINT:
City Center Crown & Bridge Lab
Address: 732 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Ste. 900, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Stephen McGrew