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DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter Settling into a dentist’s chair to get a cavity filled can be unsettling, to say the least. There’s the sharp shot of anesthesia, the whine of the drill, the slurping of the suction hose or the taste of latex gloves mixed with pulverized tooth enamel. Looking to make that experience a bit less harrowing is Glendale-based Crystal Mark D.D.S. Inc. The company’s Abradent DV-1 machine shoots a stream of gritty material aluminum oxide, for example that essentially sandblasts away the decayed portion of a tooth. It’s a big improvement on the metal drill, at least in terms of patient comfort, say Crystal Mark officials and several dentists who have begun using the machines. “I have had a very good response from the patients,” said Encino dentist Allan Melnick, who bought one of Crystal Mark’s machines seven months ago. “They like it, and I’m very pleased with it. They experience little or no pain, and no vibration, no noise, and they found it a much more pleasant experience than the traditional way.” Crystal Mark is not the only maker of dental “micro-abrasion” machines, but the company says it has already captured 10 percent of the market. “I did look at other products, and this is a machine that is reasonably priced and performs the functions that are necessary to remove tooth decay,” said Don Cartter, a Tustin dentist who uses Crystal Mark’s machine to drill holes for cavity repair and to check teeth for decay. “There are a lot of other real expensive machines out there that do the same thing, but you can get the job done with this unit.” Crystal Mark D.D.S. is one of a group of three companies owned by brothers Michael, Jawn and Marko Swan. The other companies are Crystal Mark Inc., which makes machines that use the same micro-abrasion technology, but for industrial applications, and Cygnet Stamping & Fabricating Inc., which makes parts out of sheet metal for aerospace, automotive, computer and telecommunications companies. Combined, the Swan brothers’ three companies which are based in a group of seven buildings in an industrial section of Glendale generated revenues of $12.5 million in 1997. That’s more than double the $5 million in 1993. While Crystal Mark D.D.S. has only existed as a separate entity for the past 18 months and accounts for only $1 million of the group’s total 1997 revenues it is the business about which the Swan brothers are most excited. “Where the growth is going to occur through is in the dental business,” said Jawn Swan, president of Crystal Mark Inc. and Crystal Mark D.D.S. “We’re just starting there, and the growth can be phenomenal.” Crystal Mark D.D.S. has sold about 1,000 of its Abradent machines, and Jawn says the market potential is vast considering there are between 120,000 and 140,000 dentists in the United States. Melnick said about 5 percent of U.S. dentists currently use a micro-abrasion system. But, he said, an estimated 50 percent of dentists likely will be using the technique within five years. “It’s a new technology and it’s probably going to be one of the fastest-growing technologies in the next five years,” Melnick said. Micro-abrasion was developed in the late 1940s by Corpus Christi, Texas dentist Robert Black, who then sold its patent to S.S. White Dental Products. The use of the technology for dentistry, however, did not catch on because the type of dental fillings then being used, silver amalgam, did not adhere well to micro-abraded teeth. Instead, S.S. White focused on industrial uses of the technology. Ernest Swan, the father of Crystal Mark’s owners, was one of the company’s sales representatives in the mid-1950s. Ernest, who died in 1980, formed his company as a division of S.S. White in 1967 to do micro-abrasion contract work. He refined the use of micro-abrasion for everything from semiconductor production to paleontology research. Crystal Mark was spun off from S.S. White in 1990, and is today able to freely exploit micro-abrasion because patents on such technologies last only 16 years. Crystal Mark has re-entered the dental industry because the stronger composite fillings now being used adhere easily to micro-abraded surfaces. While dentistry is a major target area for the Swan brothers, it is not the only place they are pushing micro-abrasion technology. The technology is also used for such things as taking excess material off small machine parts and for removing the serial numbers from metal parts. That might be done, for example, when a part has been retooled to withstand more-strenuous conditions and its manufacturer wants to change its serial number to reflect the upgrade. Crystal Mark both sells micro-abrasion equipment to other companies and uses its own equipment to perform micro-abrasion work. Sylmar-based Spectrolab Inc. uses four Crystal Mark micro-abrasion machines on solar cells cells used to collect sunlight and convert it into usable power. It supplies those cells to various satellite-makers, including Hughes Space and Communications Co., Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. Jim Herzstock, process development engineer for Spectrolab, said Crystal Mark does a good job of not only making the original micro-abrasion equipment, but also of maintaining it. (Maintenance involves such tasks as replacing nozzles worn out by the large amount of abrasive material blasted through them.) And despite the wear and tear caused by such work, Crystal Mark’s machines stand up well, Herzstock said. “Everything wears out eventually,” he said, “but they stand up well under those type of circumstances.”

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