Entrepreneur creates dentures with special appeal to people of color
By Charles Hallman
In this week’s segment of our multi-part series on Black business, we take a look at a profession that is on the decline among African Americans. According to the American Dental Association diversity data, the number of Black dentists has been declining since the mid-1990s. As a result, both locally and nationally dental technician Randy Jackson is among a rare breed these days.
Before the 1960s, dentists did all the work. During that time technician training in dental colleges and vocational schools was created, says Jackson, who attended vocational school for dental technicians after he served in Vietnam in 1975.
“I wanted to be a welder,” he recalls. “I went out to the welder course and took the test. but the [instructor] said I didn’t look smart enough to be a welder. So I said I wanted to be a fireman, [but] on the fireman course they told me that I didn’t look strong enough to be a fireman. So I went to the dental laboratory — they turned me down for everything else and said I will be a dental technician.
“I went to the course and passed the test, and the [instructor] said I can take the course. But administration tried to talk me out of going to the course,” Jackson continues. After a Veterans Administration representative stepped in on his behalf, he
went on to two years of rigorous training, then successfully passed the certification test in five key areas: dentals, crown and bridge, partial framework, orthodontics and ceramics.
“I’ve been working as a [dental] technician for 34 years,” says Jackson proudly. Over the course of his career, he has worked in all types of dental labs “and done almost everything a dental technician can do. “I’m considered to be one of the five top dental technicians in the United States. I’m certified in all five areas. I am at the top of my profession.
“I can go to New York, California, or just about anywhere, but here I can’t beat down doors,” admits Jackson. He came to the Twin Cities in 1997 “to stay only for a few months” while a loved one was hospitalized. Instead of returning to his home in the Washington state area, he opened a lab in St. Paul for five years working for a dentist. However, the dentist he worked for suffered a couple of strokes “and sold out to a [dental] corporation. About 15 minutes after they bought the business, they fired me,” says Jackson, who ever since has been an independent owner.
There isn’t a dental lab that performs all five areas, he reports: “I make false teeth. I do partial framework, full dentures — I [also] do a lot of ortho work,” explains Jackson, who has operated for over a year on East Lake Street and Park Avenue. “I’m independent, but the doctors are my clients.”
Furthermore, he believes he’s the only Black dental technician in the state and among a precious few in this country. “In 34 years, I’ve met two other Black technicians before I came here, and I trained one since I’ve been here. About 98 percent of all technicians are field trained. I’m in that two percent that have been to an accredited school,” states Jackson. “The first thing I had to learn when I was in school was everything a [dentist] would learn before I could learn what a technician does.”
Jackson also is proud of having introduced “colored dentures” for Blacks and other patients of color — “different colors…just for us,” he proclaims. However when asked if a Black patient would know that he designed it, “I doubt it,” says Jackson. “When I came to Minnesota seven years ago, there were only pink dentures.”
Asked if he is supported by local Black dentists, Jackson responds disappointedly, “If Blacks came into my business and wanted help, a hand, and assistance or whatever,” notes Jackson on the low support of his business, “I would give it to them. I wouldn’t just close the door on them…[saying] ‘You’re on your own — tough luck.’”
He also notes that among an estimated 150 local dentists he has contacted, “I found two Blacks. I get some work from Asian doctors, and doctors from Syria and Iran send me work. But our people don’t send me any even though I am probably the most qualified technician in this state.
“I’ve run a denture lab, a bridge lab, a partial frame lab — I’ve troubleshot laboratories [over the years],” says Jackson, who concludes, “I’m not as busy as I was, but I’m making a living. I need a couple of more doctors [for clients].”
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