Duane Baluke is a second-generation* dental technologist whose father co-founded Shaw Dental Laboratory, at one time the largest laboratory in Canada. After his father passed and the laboratory changed hands, Duane and his brother Walter (aka “Skip”) opened Baltor Dental Laboratory, which eventually evolved into Baluke Dental Studios.
Now 71, Duane still has no plans of slowing down or retiring; he loves his job that much. He vacations in Florida for a couple of months each year but we always hear from him a few days after his departure, telling us he’s ready to come back.
In fact, he’s actively involved in everything at the lab. For example, if there’s a case that involves more than three departments, we’ll meet for a roundtable discussion. These meetings sometimes go on for hours, but Duane is always there, troubleshooting with us, eager to see every stage of the case to be sure the patient is getting the best options available.
He takes a hands-on approach to training so when a technician is having a problem, Duane sits at the bench to show him how to fix the issue. He knows that showing, not just telling, is the best way to teach and provide a thorough understanding of the solution.
Duane always says the lab is an entity: it’s a moving, breathing, living thing and the people who work here are what keeps it alive. That sentiment is evident in everything he does.
He makes a point each morning to say hello to every one of us and pays attention to what’s going on in our lives. He feels a responsibility not only towards us as his employees, but to our families, too. And that passion and sincerity inspires everyone here; we see how much he cares and it makes us care just as much.
*Following in his footsteps, Duane’s daughter, Brittany, and son, Tyler, are both team members at Baluke Dental Studios; Tyler works in the removable department and Brittany just completed a three-year dental technology program at George Brown College.
Duane Baluke RDT – President of Baluke Dental Studios
By Cheryl Antao-Xavier
Even as a child, it seemed destined that Duane Baluke would build a career in the dental field. “I grew up in a dental lab,” he says. “I knew what a #700 bur looked like and what it was used for before I could write.” Duane’s father, Walter Baluke, Sr. worked at Shaw Laboratories. Young Duane would go to work with his father on the weekends. “One of my jobs was to change the copper bands from one copper plating solution to another.”
Walter wanted Duane to become a dentist, but “after spending so much time in the dental lab world, I fell in love with it. At that point I knew my calling was to be a dental technologist.” Duane went to George Brown College for the theory and took “almost every postgraduate and continuing education course available.” He had hands-on experience in his father’s lab. “The greatest education for me was to work and study under the supervision of my father. He was a demanding teacher. I continue to carry those lessons today,” he says.
Walter Baluke, Sr. had helped Archie Shaw grow Shaw Laboratories and eventually bought the lab from Archie. Later he sold Shaw Labs and following the 10-year no-compete period, he set up Dental Ceramics of Canada. The industry was very different in those days. “It was an industry that was built on and thrived because of highly skilled,committed, and dedicated technicians,”
Dental Ceramics of Canada expanderapidly and had 170 technicians on staff at one time. “The industry was thriving and on an upswing. It was an exciting time to be a rookie dental technologist,” says Duane. “I was idealistic about my dental profession when I started. I was excited. An excitement that still lingers. I was enthusiastic with boundless amounts of energy, fuelled I think by my never-ending desire to meet and exceed my father’s expectations. The dental technology industry was then and is today a great profession. Techs need to continuously educate themselves on theory and continue to develop new skills.” Duane was content working with his father and his brother Walter JR, (Skip) at Dental Ceramics. But their father’s death from cancer precipitated a major shift for the Baluke brothers. “We started Baluke Dental Studios from the ashes of Dental Ceramics of Canada,” says Duane. The vision for the new business was also different. “I have wanted to have a lab that was not a tooth factory, but a lab of thehighest technical standards and integrity.”
High standards and integrity are issues worth defending, but a challenge nonetheless, says Duane. He regrets that he did not do all the good he could have done when he sat on the board of ADTO. “I’m a get-things-done kind of guy and didn’t blend well with the structure of a board. I hope I did some good while I was there, but I would do things differently today.”
He feels ADTO is well-received today because it has a strong president. Thereis much that ADTO and other related organizations can accomplish in terms of introduction of progressive initiatives industry-wide, he says. “I would like to see a greater profile of our profession as a career option in the secondary and post-secondary schools. Dental technology is a wonderful career. The place to be in the future is any technology field,” says Duane. “I would like to see the RDT set-up change to a technician having a general education of dental technology and then have the RDT specialize in whatever discipline they choose, for example crown and bridge, implants, dentures, castpartials or CAD/CAM. A Master of Dental Technology programme should be offered after one has achieved an RDT in all disciplines.”
Another change that Duane would like to see is the addition of a treatment option for RDTs. “I would like to see RDTs be recognized as being able to work in the mouth much like a denturist is able to do now. As well as removing and replacing temporaries and implant prosthesis,” he says. Would he like to get involved in giving back to the field in general? “I am always ready to get involved in any initiative to improve and advance dental technology,” says Duane. “The thought that I should give back to the industry was the reason I joined the ADTO board to start with. There are too many naysayers sitting on the sidelines and not getting involved.”
History repeated itself in the Baluke family choice of career when Duane’s daughter Brittany Erica Baluke told her father that she wanted to become a dental technician. She was enrolled in a business arts program at York University at the time, when she came to Duane saying that she “wasn’t feeling the love.” This was because Duane had always told his children to make sure they loved the work/profession they chose. Also like her father before her, Brittany spent “a lot of time in and around the lab as a child. When she was four years old, she painted a picture of me – or at least it was supposed to be me – and under the picture she printed ‘I want to be the boss of the lab.’ I’m sure she had some help with the spelling. I told her I thought it was a sound decision.”
Brittany is already making her own mark in the field. She is on the Dean’s list at George Brown and helps with the first year students “I know my father would be proud of her. I know I’m very proud of her. I hope he would be proud of me as well. He was a difficult man to please.”
Duane’s son Tyler Baluke is also showing an interest in following his sister, his father and Uncle, and his Grandfather Walter into the dental technology field. Three generations of the Baluke family followed their heart and chose careers as dental technicians and watched an industry radically transform its way of doing business from generation to generation.