Image Gallery's Lonni Thompson recruits at CCAD because she believes having an artistic eye when creating dental devices is key.

Lonni Thompson recruits dental technicians in an unlikely place: the Columbus College of Art and Design. The artistry used at her boutique dental laboratory in Dublin, fused with a progressive and customized approach, helps Thompson and her team at Image Gallery provide dentists and their patients with the highest-quality products, from crowns and bridges to implant abutments.

Image Gallery celebrated its 40th year in 2019, and this year it will double to 2,000 square feet-—room for a design center, customer consultations and educational events.

From Thompson’s signature orange lab coat to the description of her five team members as dental artisans, Image Gallery treats its work as an art. Thompson recruits at CCAD because she believes having an artistic eye and the ability to look at things differently puts her team at an advantage.

“Your smile is one of the most important things you have,” Thompson says. “You have to match all the colors. Home in on the color and shape of the teeth.”

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Team member Justin Gray earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics and sculpture from CCAD. At Image Gallery, he works in ceramics for dental products, and his paintings also hang on the walls of the lab.

Adam Gibson, a dentist who owns Gibson Dental near Hilliard and soon will open Short North Dental, says Thompson pulls artists into the dental world as a way to ensure top-quality work, and that’s what he’s seen, time and time again.

“They are truly artists,” Gibson says. “I have peace of mind knowing that I’m putting a quality product in my patients’ mouths.”

Though licensing isn’t required for dental labs or technicians, Thompson and several other Image Gallery employees are certified dental technicians. She advocates nationally for stricter regulation of dental laboratories.

Promising her patients the latest in materials, techniques and technology, Thompson embraces change in the dental industry as a local and national leader.  She is president of the Ohio Dental Laboratory Association and a director of the National Association of Dental Laboratories. 

Image Gallery’s expansion will include an educational area large enough for 10 dentists or assistants to attend trainings. “We’re going to have all kinds of groups in there—[working on] things like moving forward laboratory procedures or materials,” Thompson says.

Gibson says Thompson urges dentists to adopt digital methods, but also leads the way with technology in her own lab. “Most labs still employ old-practice ways of making crowns and bridges,” he says, “but Image Gallery’s trying to go completely digital. No more impressions anymore.”

If a patient needs a crown, Gibson now uses an intraoral scanner to take pictures of the tooth and email the images to Image Gallery to print a 3D model. 

Thompson says 3D printing is “the new frontier” in the dental industry. The 3D printer in the Image Gallery lab currently prints models to help dentists prep correctly for permanent devices. Patients also use the models as a trial run in case changes need to be made. Thompson predicts 3D printers will be creating final dental products within the next six years.

Dental patient Roy Bieber says the digital process was so much easier than the “goo” dentists have used to make impressions. “You can actually see what it’s going to look like—it’s kind of reassuring. That’s your smile.”

Thompson has owned the business for 40 years and still sees several patients a day. “I always wanted to build something that made me happy and other people happy,” she says. “Your whole health is built on your teeth.”

Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.