Digital Dentistry seems to be the word on everyone's lips at the moment... and for good reason. According to Core3dcentres' Laboratory Business Manager, Rob Stack, all members of the dental team can benefit from the accuracy, efficiency, consistency and profitability gains afforded by new technologies.
"Dental labs can now outsource the labour intensive parts of production such as the manufacture of substructures, whilst becoming even more efficient in the highly skilled areas that require a technician's specialist skill set, such as design and finishing," he said.
"In addition to this, digitisation allows technicians to connect their laboratories to broad production capabilities without heavy investment in milling equipment."
Mr Stack said that in his experience, many clinicians are loving the new technologies because even advanced impression taking for implants and most orthodontic cases have been digitised.
"Digital impressions offer unparalleled accuracy and consistency, allow for corrections to be made in seconds and have all but banished second impression seating to the history books," he said. "Digital impressions have also removed the messy, laborious tasks of mixing materials and pouring stone as well as the need for purchasing and stocking those items."
Once a dental practice adopts digital impression taking as the norm, the first question is which laboratories are equipped to work from digital impressions.
"All labs need to realise that this doesn't need to be an us and them situation," Mr Stack said. "Practices that have digitised can still send work to traditional labs by having a milled model sent to them; equally however, the practice is excited to adopt a fully digital workflow.
"Core3dcentres' Channel Partner network of digital laboratories are the leading dental laboratories. These laboratories are able to offer the most advanced and broadest range of services. Once a laboratory takes the decision to digitise, the reaction is quite predictable. Realising the time and cost savings and enjoying a short learning curve to produce incredible work digitally, the laboratory owner is thrilled with the progress they see in their business and only wish they'd become involved sooner."
Globally, Core3dcentres has its roots in the dental laboratory business, having been founded by an international group of dental laboratories from Canada, the USA, the UK, The Netherlands and Australia. Together, the group has built what they saw at the time as a need that didn't exist - a partner for digitisation.
"The background of Core3dcentres is important because it shows that as a group, we understand that the first priority of business is keeping your laboratory running.
This is why we place such emphasis on training and support. Core3dcentres also understands that all laboratories and laboratory owners are different, so the group takes a personalised approach to integrating technology into a laboratory to ensure it fits with the way the business operates."
How to go digital
Mr Stack said that when a laboratory contemplates "going digital", it is important to understand that not all systems are equal.
"It's important to think about the current services you offer and what you would like to add going forward," he said. "Right now you may only be looking to mill zirconia, but later you may want to build your implant business. Not all lab scanners will be
able to scan for bars, so it might behove you
to spend a little more on a scanner that can in the first instance so that you don't have to start from scratch down the track.
"You also need to understand your business. Are you a one or two person lab with clients that only use a limited range of implant systems? If so, then maybe a closed system will serve your needs. If you work with multiple implant systems in your laboratory, or if you wish to pursue new clients by offering additional services, you may want to look at open systems.
"Scanning and designing in-house is now common, however if you're considering milling in your lab, it is important to know up front that once you install a machine, there is more to it than you think.
"If you decide to design and mill in-house, then it is prudent to ensure the vendor who sold you the system will also be there when you have teething problems. At Core3dcentres, we offer a complete path to digitisation including a high level of ongoing support."
Mr Stack recommended getting referrals from laboratories already using the system you are considering purchasing and taking the time to call and discuss their experiences before investing.
"Like any advanced technology there is a learning curve. Whoever you chose to purchase from needs to provide hands-on training along with quick and reliable access to support on a day-to-day basis. Choosing a vendor that can reference a long list of laboratories it has successfully digitised is a good way to be confident in your choice.
"A further tip is to decide what business you want to be in. From working closely with early adopters of digital laboratory workflows, a common thread amongst them is that they got to a point and asked themselves, 'what business do I want to be in?' They saw that laboratory scanning and CAD design was emerging as a necessary skill that every laboratory would need to stay competitive.
"The realisation was that if they took the next step, which is milling, they were in a totally different business and a very expensive business," Mr Stack said. "This is not to say that laboratories should not buy a mill and hire someone to run it, because there could be a positive ROI that justifies doing so. But understand that this is
now engineering and decide what business you want to be in. Do you want to focus on the aesthetics, artistry and anatomy, while working to cultivate clients? Or do you want to take it all on, from design to manufacturing followed up by finishing? You make the call."