He aims for a good first impression

July 15, 2007|By PEPPER BALLARD

If anyone knows the importance of making a good first impression, it's certified dental technician Robert Mann.

The 70-year-old owner of Alpha Syromili, a Hagerstown crown and bridge dental laboratory, has spent the past 50 years taking bite impressions from dentists to make crowns and bridges for 60,000 to 75,000 mouths.

The 1955 Hagerstown High School graduate got his first job as a dental technician in the summer of 1957 after he graduated from Hagerstown Junior College. He had plans to become a research chemist, but what started out as a summer job turned into his career.

Through word of mouth, Mann heard that William Lauricella - one of Washington County's only dental technicians at the time - was looking for help. Mann said he marched to Washington County Free Library and read all the books available on the field, which, he said, he could have stacked together in one hand at the time.


"The more I read, the more interested I was," he said.

After he was hired, Mann was thrown into a three-month crash course on the trade. He eventually became partners with Lauricella.

After the practice grew to three technicians - each with a specialty - Mann broke off and worked for a local dentist before creating his own lab, Alpha Syromili, which he's owned for 30 years.

Mann is not a dentist, but he said a lot of people believe he is one. In his 314 N. Potomac St. laboratory, Mann and his assistants make crowns and bridges for several area dentists' patients. The dentists take their patients' bite impressions and send those impressions to Mann to construct appropriate prostheses.

When he started out, Mann said, dental technicians "were sort of hidden by the doctors from public," but now, patients are more aware that there is another step in their dental work that goes beyond the dentist's office.

In the 1950s, it was not unusual for Mann to work on bridges until 4 a.m. because dentists set the rules at the time.

Back then, the process was longer, and it could take two to three days for a dental technician to get from the dentist the impression model used to make a bridge. That process now takes hours.

"We can make a crown in as short as three days," he said, adding that in the 1950s the same job could take about three weeks.

When he got started in 1957, dentistry was in the forefront of problem prevention.

He said doctors concentrated on diagnosing medical problems when they arose while dentists were pushing patients to prevent problems and especially advocated regular six-month check-ups and the inclusion of fluoride in water.

To this day, Mann said, the six-month checkup routine is a good thing.

"It's invaluable as far as saving money and saving your teeth," he said. "They're going to spend a lot more money later on if they wait. It's rarely a good idea to ignore a dentist's recommendation on dental needs."

He added that overall health depends largely on the mouth's health.

He said the local area is "very lucky" to have a good dental community.

As for his lab, he said Alpha Syromili is certified, meaning it must maintain sanitary conditions and pass several tests each year. The lab certification also ensures that there is a certified dental technician running it.

Syromili is a name made up of the first letters of the names of his wife, his two children and himself. He and his wife, Sylvia, have a son, Michael Eugene Mann, a daughter, Linda Sue Colella, and three grandchildren.

Alpha was added to the name after a few years because, Mann said with a laugh, he wanted to be the top listing in the phone book.

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