Scott Huffman reflects on his time with UAB and relationships like the one with Oral Arts.

I recently celebrated my 16th anniversary with the UAB School of Dentistry. It has been a great ride so far. For me, the lines are often blurred. Our wonderful alumni and donors have become much more than that. Many are true friends. People I can count on. Even on the corporate level, I’ve developed a few deep, meaningful friendships. One of those is with the Winstead family, owners of Oral Arts Dental Laboratories. Our student dental lab was dedicated the D. Thomas Winstead Student Laboratory in April of 2015. Thomas started the company back in 1970. The leadership has since transitioned to his son, Matt Winstead. I recently caught up with Matt to see how Oral Arts has been taking care of business during the coronavirus pandemic.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down dental offices across Alabama and most other states this spring, the economic ramifications for dentists reached far and wide. Dental companies that support the profession also suffered. Alabama’s largest dental laboratory, Oral Arts, was humming right along when the pandemic hit. “When it first hit we were running at full capacity,” said Matt Winstead, vice president, who runs the day-to-day operations. “We actually worked for about two weeks while all the dentists were at home because we had so many cases. Unfortunately, about ten days later we had to lay off more than three hundred employees for about three weeks,” he said.

Oral Arts sought and got Paycheck Protection Program relief, so the majority of their employees were only out of work for about three weeks. Since then the Huntsville based company has roared back, and according to Winstead their dentist clients are relying on their services more than ever. “Before the virus, about 35 percent of all United States dental lab industry cases went offshore. After the COVID quarantine we've seen a huge increase in demand for our services. We believe this increased demand is due to more dentists rethinking their decision to ship cases to Asia. Our business is up at least five percent and that’s not counting the lab work we do for dental schools and veteran’s hospitals who still aren’t operating at one hundred percent,” he said.

Winstead says if there’s a silver lining in the economic trials caused by the pandemic, it’s in the dental laboratory market. Since opening its doors in 1970, Oral Arts has a reputation of being exceptionally clean. One former UAB School of Dentistry dean remarked “You could eat off their floor. It was that clean.” Their diligence has ramped up even more during COVID-19. They are doing everything possible to insure their employees do not test positive. They are sanitizing, taking everyone’s temperature daily, and social distancing.

The social distancing aspect has been somewhat difficult for Matt Winstead and his dentist clients. The company has also prided itself on developing meaningful relationships with its clients, dentists and dental schools. That has been particularly difficult the past several months. The impact Oral Arts has had on its dentist clients is as strong as ever. “I’ve tried other labs but I’ve been with Oral Arts for about thirty years. They have technologies and capabilities that very few labs in the country have,” said Dr. John D. Barnes of Huntsville, Ala. “They have so many certified dental technicians and they are so kind, cooperative, and talented. The management is incredible. Oral Arts is an integral part of our profession. I would encourage any dentist to tour their lab. They will be impressed,” he said.

Oral Arts and the Winstead family have philanthropically supported the School of Dentistry for decades. Thomas and Pam Winstead donated $500,000 to name the student laboratory. At the time of the dedication he said, “My partnership with UAB has been great for my business and even better for me personally because of the friends I have made,” Winstead said. “The building of these types of relationships has continued on with my children as they are now connecting with various students, professors, and alumni of the school. UAB has always aided me in the quest to stay on the cutting edge.”

Thomas remains President and CEO of the company, but he had Pam are spending more time enjoying each other’s company and tooling around on their 92 foot yacht, Lady Pamela. That suits Thomas just fine as he knows the company is in good hands of Matt, who has assumed leadership of the full service dental lab. He and his sister, Tiffany Winstead Marshall, have positioned the company well into the future, even breaking into new markets such as Costa Rica. They also continue to give back to their community and to the UAB School of Dentistry. “We are proud of our partnership with UAB and will continue to support future generations of dentists,” said Matt.