Dr Kelvin Tantono from Medan, Indonesia, has taken the road less travelled to answer his life calling and follow his passion. Although leaving his career as a dentist to become a full-time ceramist was not an easy decision, the sacrifices he made proved to be worth it in the end. With his background as a clinician paired with his hard-earned skills as a ceramist, he is now on a daily pursuit of balancing beauty and function as founder and chief technician at Zirmon Dental Atelier.
A DREAM SETTING SAIL
For Dr Tantono, practicing dentistry for five years has only solidified his dream of becoming a full-time ceramist and to run his own atelier. An introvert, he enjoys working in a laboratory and is quite a perfectionist. He shared in jest, “My patients used to complain about my long and relatively slow working time. As a ceramist, my crowns or veneers will not complain.”
But in order to achieve his dream, it was inevitable that there was trade-off as he already has a family during the transition.
“I had financial difficulty during that time as my dental practice is also my main source of income. So, I tried to put one foot on the practice and the other on my lab, but my heart has always been 100% sure that my calling was in the latter. The only solution to overcome that problem was to stay low income for some period, betting against the odds that my calling and passion was the right thing to do,” he shared.
In addition to the backslash of naysayers, he hit a point where he was completely exhausted from people asking him, “Don’t you feel like it’s a waste that you’re not using your dentist degree?!”
But, despite all of this, Dr Tantano hit the pedal to the metal and paved his own road to success. As he started with zero-knowledge in the field of ceramics, he pays his utmost respect to the masters of the field he met during his trainings.
“Training is one of my favourite parts in this journey. When I got my first ever ceramic kit, I had a basic but profound training under Master Jovi Ng from Shofu. I am really grateful to him,” he shared.
Several months later, Dr Tantono went to Japan to meet Master Mistutaka Fukushima in Hamamatsu where he was inspired to better himself. This pushed him to attend more trainings internationally, including a wax-up training with Master Szabi Hant in Singapore, a four days complete anatomic training with Dr Stefano Cossar in Malaysia, and a ceramic training with Dr Edson Da Silva and Dr Marcello Calamita.
However, the most memorable course he took was the one-month international programme at the Osaka Ceramic Training Centre as he had to make a risky decision to attend it.
He shared, “To join this course, my lab had to stop operating with zero income for one full month. But the risk had a great reward, because it has given me more knowledge on dental morphology and opened my eyes to the international standard of ceramic works.”
The last course he took was the zirconia master class with Master Kang Chien Ming.
Dr Tantono admitted that at that time, all these trainings appeared to be an irrational decision, especially in terms of the cost. But there was no tinge of regret. For him, the most fulfilling aspect of being a ceramist is, “When the patient and dentist appreciate our work.”
This is due to the time, effort, and skills put into the work, even if it is only a single restoration.
WHERE THE HEART IS
Zirmon Dental Atelier started off as a “one man- show” in Dr Tantono’s spare bedroom where he did everything by himself — from
making the models to ceramic works, as well as handling the admin tasks.
He enjoys working alone but with the increased demand of his services, he expanded his practice to reduce the waiting time for his clients. Additionally, some of his team members started out without prior work experience but Dr Tantono believes that hard work beats talent. He pushes them to do their best in every task and is delighted to see their improvement and progress each day.
“Now, Zirmon consists of two teams: Team Excel and Team Marvel. Unlike other labs where technicians are seen as individuals, here in Zirmon, I divided them into teams because I believe that it’ll help them learn faster and better. I want them to understand that they do not stand alone in Zirmon. They have co-workers and what they do will affect the next procedure,” he explained.
He added that Excel stands for excellent, and Marvel stands for marvellous. These are the values he wishes to inculcate to his team members, to create something they can be proud of. Meticulous in terms of the operations in the atelier, he wakes up at five a.m. every work day to prepare the things for his team.
He shared, “I love this moment because of the lack of distractions. I wouldn’t miss this first two hours of the day where I can be the most efficient.”
From Dr Tantono’s learning experience in Osaka Ceramic Training Centre, Zirmon adopted the practice of cleaning the atelier for 15 minutes in the morning before work starts, as well as another 15 minutes cleaning it before the shift end in the evening.
“Daily work is a routine because every team member has their own specific role. But the routine is never boring because we face different challenge each day. We also have mentorship not only by me towards my team, but they also guide each other. Only by sharing, we can learn more,” he said.
This is reflected during the early period of the pandemic when dental clinics were closed due to lack of resources, and Dr Tantono took part in researching and gathering information on how to safely practice and reopen their clinics.
Dr Tantono shared that the success of the team can be attributed to the three core values they firmly believe in: helpful, humble, and quality. He said that whenever they receive a case, their mindset is to ask these questions: “What can we do to solve the problem? If we can’t solve it, what can we still do to help this case? What can we suggest?”
The team then humbly communicate the issues to the dentist. “We listen, but we also suggest our point of view with humble attitude, therefore, trust is built. If all the problems are addressed and cleared up front, our team can start to work and ensure high-quality output,” he shared.
These values are practiced not only for their clients but inside the atelier too.
For Dr Tantono, quality should always come first, and speed is not their top priority. Hence, there is a production limit each day. To compensate, he invested heavily in equipment to ensure work is done efficiently. For instance, the CAD/CAM technology allows him to design while milling.
“Technology made it easier for me to expand my team. For instance, teaching them to do scanning is pretty simple because everything is in sequence. But still, machine alone is not enough,” he remarked.
He continued, “The interesting thing is that many people in the dental industry assume that machine can replace human. I agree if the task is non-artistic as machines are good in consistency and stability. But the artistic aspect of creating is different because it is dynamic.”
In order to create a beautiful restoration, the sense of art including carving, sculpting, painting, and shade interpretation are all involved, he explained.
So, for him, the best thing to do is to keep the role of machines and human hands (and eyes) balanced.
“These two things are supposed to collaborate each other, not to eliminate,” he advised.
BEAUTY IN HARMONY
According to Dr Tantono, the secret recipe for any successful collaboration is the right balance of skills and communication.
He said, “The dentist must do a well-defined tooth preparation and take good impression. He/she should also be able to take clear photos to record the tooth shade. On the other hand, the technician must be able to read the shade from the photo and implement it on the porcelain and stains. This is on top of having a deep understanding of tooth morphology.”
Throughout his career, he has witnessed how some collaborations have failed because of different communication style.
He elaborated, “We all want to have a perfect looking end-result. But in reality, what happen on the clinical side does not always provide ideal and perfect situation. Based on this reality, I wish to send message to dentists and dental technicians that our work is not a one-sized-fit-all solution, but rather a dynamic approach where we weigh which aspect is more important than another.”
Dr Tantono believes that the beauty of nature is not in perfection, but in harmony. Ultimately, he encourages everyone around him to chase knowledge as it is the best investment one can make.
He said, “This investment is the best because nothing can take it away from you. And even better, once you have the knowledge, you can share them to others. And when you share the knowledge, it multiplies. What kind of investment can be better than this?”
However, for one to be successful in the field of ceramics, they should be passionate in the job and strive to always improve themselves. He also added that hard work and persistence should go hand in hand.
Being a laboratory owner, Dr Tantono admits that most hours of his day are spent at work. But this doesn’t stop him from attaining a balance in his personal life too. For him, balance is not 50:50, but is about living life in harmony by being fully present.
“When I am working, I work like as if this is the only time I have to work. When I am having my lunch, I enjoy them like I have no work to be worried about. When I am spending time with my family, I enjoy the moment like I am a well-retired man,” he expounded.
To end with, Dr Tantono wants to give a gentle reminder to clinicians and technicians that the partnership between them is just like any other human relationship.
He concluded, “We need to make an effort to communicate and build chemistry. We need to find each other. For those dentists who have found their matching dental technician, I congratulate you. But for those who haven’t, one day you will find one!”
This article was published in Dental Asia March/April 2021 issue.