One woman's career change brings an unusual business to Aquinnah
Photo courtesy of Ariana Feldberg
The small town of Aquinnah is home to a new dental laboratory that gives Martha's Vineyard dentists an on-Island option. For Ariana Feldberg, the owner of Ideal Dental Laboratory, it is an opportunity to combine several diffent passions and draw on her family background.
Ms. Feldberg, 35, a former marine biologist and equistrienne, runs her full-service denture and orthodontics lab from her home off State Road near Lobsterville Road. She produces a wide range of orthodontic and denture prosthetics, including false teeth.
Until recently, Island dentists had no choice but to send their work off Island, a process that could take several days, or do it themselves. Ms. Feldberg sometimes can get the work done the same day.
"If I can get an impression into a UPS overnight envelope by three. My off-Island lab will get it sometime the next day and may not be able to start the work until the following day," said Dr. Garrett Orazem of Vineyard Haven. "Then it takes another day to get it back. That's four days, when things go well."
Dr. Orazem has practiced dentistry on the Island for almost 30 years. He said he used to do much of what Ms. Feldberg does himself at night after a full day of seeing patients in his office.
"I am very pleased with Ms. Feldberg's work and I think she shows a lot of promise," he said. "She is quick and very nice to work with."
Dr. Orazem said he still relies on a well-known Cape-based lab he has worked with for over 20 years for some of his work.
Dr. Helene Schaeffer of Edgartown said that sending work off-Island takes, at a minimum, three to four days. Dr. Schaeffer said that Ms. Feldberg is doing a great job. "She is very nice to work with and her prices are competitive," she said. In addition, Ms. Feldberg picks up and delivers her work.
Ms. Feldberg switched careers a couple of years ago when she was still in her early thirties. A marine biologist, she ran the Wampanoag Aquinnah Shellfish Hatchery from 2002 until it closed in 2009. She then helped set up and run a hatchery project at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution until the commute became too laborious and she decided to switch careers in order to continue to live in Aquinnah.
The jump from hatchery to replacement teeth seems like a big one, but there is a background. She is the daughter of a dentist, Philip Feldberg, the original "Dr. Happy Tooth" on the TV show "PM Magazine" from Windsor. Connecticut.
She had only been to the Island a couple of times as a child with her parents. "I hated it here growing up because my horses weren't here," she said.
Her parents built a house in Aquinnah when she was in college and her father suggested she spend a summer working on the Island. She got a job as a waitress and fell in love with the Island. She built her own house in 2004 on a lot next to her parents.
She graduated from high school, Suffield Academy, a year early and took a year off to ride horses. She was close to qualifying for the junior national finals and knew she would not be able to put in the time necessary to achieve that goal if she went straight to college.
She worked mornings in her father's in-house dental lab helping produce crown and bridge work and she rode for five different farms in the afternoons. She made it to the National finals and then went off to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the fall. The day after receiving her degree in marine science she took the job in Aquinnah.
After the hatchery jobs didn't pan out, Ms. Feldberg remembered how much fun it was working in her father's lab. "I have always enjoyed working with my hands," she said. She discussed with her father that there was no dental lab on the Island and they decided to give it a try.
She decided to study orthodonics in Buffalo, N.Y. "The hardest part was learning how to bend wire," she said. "It is much harder to do than you think. I came back to the Island all excited with my newfound knowledge."
She talked to the local dentists who told her they didn't do a lot of orthodontic work but they could use someone who could make dentures. "I should have done more research," she said.
She returned to school. Last year she received a Martha's Vineyard Women's Network grant of $2,500 given to a Vineyard business person who wants to improve, grow, or start a new business on the Vineyard. She used the grant to purchase used top of the line equipment for the lab which she had to go back to school to learn to use.
One of the instructors from the Pennsylvania school spent four days in her lab tutoring her. "It was an invaluable experience. My brain hurt by the time he left. I learned so much. He watched over my shoulder and taught me tricks that he knows." she said. "I think the only reason he came to the Vineyard was because he wanted to go fishing and to get out of York, Penn."
In addition to the work she does for her father, Ms. Feldberg said that six Island dentists have used her services so far. She plans to revisit the dentists who are not her customers. She said that she can often turn work around in one day which can be difficult to do if the work is sent off-Island.
She said that she is able make multi-colored mouth guards. "I am dying to make the kid's sports teams custom mouth guards. I can make them purple and white with a "V" in the middle. They would look awesome," she said.
She was named one of the "Top 25 Women in Dentistry" by the "Dental Products Report" in their September issue. She said she has no idea how that happened.
She has two dogs and two fish tanks. She is at the barn twice a day taking care of her horses and riding, she likes to hike and she tends her own lobster pots. She has plans to show horses again, as soon as they are ready.
"If someone had told me ten years ago that I would be on the Island doing dentistry I would have told them they were crazy," she said. "I love what I do. I love working with my hands. It's sort of an arts and crafts day every day and I really do enjoy helping people. The biggest thank you was a big hug from a 96-year-old woman because she only had to miss one day of bridge. It was the cutest thing ever."