How passion creates great smile design

November 9, 2022

A poster hanging in Marina Caponigro’s office says, “Do something today your future self will thank you for”—words she’s embraced. Marina went from running chemistry experiments as a teacher in Ukraine to a master dental technician and Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) in the United States. All this by following her gut and, as she likes to call it, a “fire in the belly.” Marina explains why passion is the key to great smile design, job satisfaction and happy patients.

Q: How did you get started in dentistry?

A: I was teaching at a Waldorf elementary school in Ukraine where we focused a lot on hands-on learning. Then I married an American dentist and came to the United States. He was doing a lot of lab work himself. This was 20 years ago, so he was melting gold for crowns, and it seemed like magic. I started as his chairside dental assistant. Then I continued my training to become a lab technician and got my license as an Expanded Function Dental Assistant. With that license, in addition to my work with models, computers/software, and the fabrication of ceramics, I can also work directly with the doctor and patients.

Q: Which exocad software do you use?

A: I’m working in an in-house lab at a clinic where the doctor does full arch implant-supported restoration. So we felt like DentalCAD was the best option for us. I’m still learning everything I can do with it. Right now, I’m comfortable with crowns and digital wax-ups, but I want to do more design rather than using outside designers so I’m teaching myself how.

“A little struggle is normal. The first time you cooked pasta it was a struggle. You just have to practice and then it gets better. Same with design.”

Q: What’s your approach to learning?

A: I use everything I possibly can. I have a few mentors in Russia who share their courses with me in the Russian language, which is helpful. The Facebook exocad experts group is great. It's real people talking about their successes and mistakes. I call it Facebook University. When people post their designs, I look at the shape of teeth and see what libraries they used. I often think, ‘Oh, I could use that library for that patient, and I don't have that library.’ So I start researching. Same with YouTube. I watch videos, practice and repeat. Learning something new takes time. A little struggle is normal. The first time you cooked pasta it was a struggle. You just have to practice and then it gets better. Same with design.

Q: Do you have a favorite part of your work?

A: I do love smile design. In the United States, lots of patients want a Hollywood smile, but sometimes a Hollywood smile is too perfect. I like to create a nice smile but with a little twist to make it natural. In the United States, everyone wants bleach shades and the darkest they’ll go is B1, but I like to educate patients that nothing in nature is absolutely perfect and straight. There is always a little curve and texture. It’s not black and white.

Q: Do you have a favorite exocad software feature?

A: I love the eggshell technique in the Provisional Module for digital wax-ups. For mockup restorations, it's a really cool feature. Often when I’m working with exocad, the software will just offer me something, and I think, ‘This is great!’

“The technician and the doctor, it's like a marriage. They really need to click and have the same vision and the same goal.”

Q: Since you work at a clinic with a lab, you have a great view of both sides of the bench. Do you see ways to improve communication more generally between dentists and labs?

A: Always when I get a chance to lecture to dental technicians, I try to motivate them to get experience as dental assistants. Then when I talk to dental assistants and doctors, I motivate them to get their hands dirty doing lab work. I think communication can be improved if both sides put themselves in the shoes of the other. Especially now with digital dentistry, we have such a great opportunity for technicians and clinicians to come together and learn from each other.

The technician and the doctor, it's like a marriage. They really need to click and have the same vision and the same goal. Then it's a good marriage. If you have a different vision or different goals, then it's going to end in divorce.

Q: Do you have any tips on ways to engage patients in their treatment?

A: I have a lot of understanding. I don’t like to be a patient either. I try to turn their focus to the end result. I talk to them about the exocad software and what it can do. We bring them into the lab and show them how we design everything, and then we show them the milling unit and 3D printer. Sometimes I even bring them to my room and ask if they’d like to do some color characterization on their crown.

Q: Ok, time for some fun questions. Favorite music to start your day?

A: I like classical music. It gives me room for imagination, and I can think about whatever I need to get done.

Q: What's your passion?

A: I love cooking, and I love making teeth. I like cooking so people can eat well. And I like to make teeth so they can chew well. When I talk to people, I always say, ‘You need to do your work with passion and love.’ If you make a meatball without passion and love, it's just going to be a ball of meat. If you made that crown and you hate what you do, the patient is going to get a stomachache. Always make that little crown with lots of love so they don’t get a stomachache.

Q: Do you have a favorite one-day getaway?

A: My husband and I like to do lots of hiking. If you give me the choice between a fancy resort or the forest, I’ll pick the forest to walk on some dirty roads and listen to the birds.

Q: One word for exocad?

A: Opportunity.

Marina Caponigro is the Director of in-house laboratory, a ceramist and smile designer at Runion Dental Group, LLC. She has always been a clinical dental technician/ceramist, specializing in full mouth reconstruction, smile design, implant-supported full arches, and prosthetics. She loves working closely with doctors and patients in clinical settings, and in-house dental laboratory settings. She does it all—from assisting doctors with taking preliminary impressions and necessary diagnostic records, to taking it further to diagnostic wax-ups, mockups, and DSD protocol with videos and photos to permanent restorations. Marina finds it wonderful to be right there in operatories when delivering new smiles to patients and to see their very happy eyes, sometimes filled with happy tears and deep appreciation! Her Expanded Function Dental Assistant license opened a great opportunity to work clinically and intraorally with patients, to develop her skills with placing direct composite resin restorations, enameloplasty, and composite resin mock-up applications. That is always very useful for treatment plan motivation and diagnostics before final treatment. Her work is her passion!

by Caitlan Reeg
Writer at exocad

Caitlan Reeg spends her days telling the world about the innovations her colleagues create. She’s passionate about healthcare, technology, and the ways the two interact to improve our lives. A former journalist, Caitlan has worked on staff at Dow Jones Newswires in Frankfurt and at the national public radio program Marketplace in Los Angeles.