Careers: Making her mark

By Drum Digital
12 September 2011

She's done time in laboratories in the public and private sectors and even took up a position in the military – but today Abigail Mbalo is most at home in an academic environment.

As chief dental technician at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s dental sciences department, this 35-year-old Capetonian is doing her bit to educate South Africa’s up-and-coming dental technicians.

Based at the CPUT’s Tygerberg Hospital campus, Abigail oversees the work of students but she’s also responsible for dental work for patients and “technical aspects of the work done in the lab”, she explains.

“I oversee the making of moulds, castings and sample work for the SA Dental Technicians Council,” she says.

Abigail usually works from 8 am to 4.30 pm but often puts in overtime especially when she’s preparing student exam work that has to be sent to the dental technicians council for approval.

From the minute she steps into the lab, she’s busy.

“I start by checking, marking and commenting on mock patient cases I’ve created for first-year students – these are used to help them prepare for the real world.”

She then checks on patient work cases done by senior BTech students. “We get the work through a twinning project I run with the University of the Western Cape Faculty of Oral Health.

“Our senior students are paired with a UWC dental student and they do a case together at the faculty’s clinical area at Tygerberg Hospital.”

She advises the students and assists them with the fabricating process, and also supervises all other patient work cases currently at the department.

For Abigail the biggest thrill is being exposed to all fields of dental technology such as prosthetics, removable metal partial dentures (chrome cobalt), crown and bridge construction and orthodontics. “This has helped me gain so much confidence in my work and makes me enjoy my job.”

In dental technology, everyday is interesting, she says. There is never a dull moment. “We deal with unique cases and interesting requests from dentists.”

Best part of the job?

Witnessing the joy patients feel when something I’ve made for them helps to change the way they feel about themselves. It gives me a high. Sharing my knowledge with students is also rewarding.

What I wear

A lab coat over a knee-length dress or skirt; pants or jeans with high-heeled shoes.

How I destress

I love a good workout at the gym followed by an inspiring read.

HOW I BECAME A DENTAL TECHNICIAN

After matriculating at Masiyile Senior Secondary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, I did a national diploma in dental technology at the then Peninsula Technikon from 1996 to 1998.

My first job as a dental technician was with a private dental laboratory in Cape Town. After two-and-a-half years I took up a position as dental technician at the state community oral healthcare clinic in the city centre, where I worked until 2002.

In 2003 I moved to the military health services where I did technical work for three years and then managed the military dental laboratory for another two years. In 2008 I became chief dental technician at CPUT.

CHALLENGES

Working on interesting cases, especially when I have to do research on them first. And defending the profession from quacks, who practice illegally and make ill-fitting dentures for the poor.

HIGHLIGHTS

Inspiring and motivating aspiring dental technology students and manufacturing complicated dental prostheses that will change the lives of the patients involved.

PITFALLS

Dental technicians need to be able to make quality dental prostheses within the required time. If you can’t, you won’t make it in this field.

Read more about this interesting careeer in DRUM, 15 September 2011.

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