The dental industry is in the midst of widespread digital transformation. For the dental laboratory, that means what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. But with change comes great opportunity.
Let’s start with dental laboratory challenges. As the cost of manufacturing technologies like 3D printing decreases, it is likely that more dental practices will manufacture some products in-office. And the corporatisation of the dental industry will likely also play a role as expanding corporate networks look to offer their dentists scalable dental laboratories equipped to service their networks.
For Australia-based dental labs, that highlights the need to reassess the value you provide to dental practices. The relationship between the dental practice and dental laboratory should run much deeper than the transaction, and dental labs that reassess the value they provide to dental practices will be well placed to leverage the dental laboratory opportunity.
While it may be possible for dental practices to purchase machinery, it’s much more difficult to buy expertise and experience. That’s where the dental laboratory opportunity lies.
Contemporary dental labs need to reach beyond simple product delivery. The dental lab must become a trusted partner that guides dental practices through the complex matrix of new technologies and market disruptors.
One of the pervading dental laboratory challenges revolves around the dentist’s need to provide the best possible treatment outcomes for their patients. Their relationship with their dental lab needs to support this — from helping to improve digital workflows and efficiencies to providing expert advice.
When a dental practice has a partnership with a dental lab that adds real value to their business, they’ll be more likely to baulk at the hefty capital expenditure investment required to set up in-house manufacturing, or may second guess the risk of sending their dental laboratory work to a less technically capable cheaper alternative.
Digitalisation and connectivity are poised to play pivotal roles in shaping the future of dental lab operations. These technological advancements offer numerous benefits to dental labs, ranging from improving efficiency and accuracy to enhancing collaboration and patient care.
With the increasing adoption of intraoral scanners, dental labs can receive digital impressions from dentists and eliminate the need for physical moulds. This speeds up the workflow, reduces errors, and allows for immediate communication between the dentist and the lab. Dental labs and dentists can communicate in real time through digital platforms, and dentists can provide feedback, approve designs, and make adjustments more efficiently.
Digitalisation also enables the more precise design and manufacturing of dental restorations to create complex dental structures with high precision, and improves the quality and consistency of restorations.
Digital transformation in dental labs aligns closely with several overarching trends and advancements in the dental industry. These trends reflect the broader shift towards digitalisation and innovation in dental practice and patient care.
Dentistry is increasingly moving toward precision and customisation to deliver more accurate and patient-specific treatments. Digitalisation in dental labs supports this trend by enabling the creation of highly customised dental prosthetics and restorations through CAD/CAM design and 3D printing.
At the same time, the demand for faster, more efficient dental care is growing. Digital workflows, such as digital impressions, CAD/CAM design, and 3D printing, significantly reduce turnaround times for dental restorations. This aligns with the industry’s emphasis on improving efficiency, reducing chairside time, and enhancing the patient experience.
Aesthetic dentistry is another prominent trend. Digital shade matching and CAD/CAM technologies enable dental labs to achieve highly accurate colour matching and create aesthetically pleasing restorations that blend seamlessly with natural teeth.
Dental care is also shifting towards a more personalised, patient-centred approach. Digital tools and patient portals used by dental labs enhance patient engagement by providing real-time updates, educational resources, and convenient communication channels.
When it comes to advancements in dental materials, including biocompatible resins and high-strength ceramics, dental labs can leverage these materials in conjunction with 3D printing and CAD/CAM to produce durable and aesthetically pleasing restorations.
Dental labs can benefit from a wide range of digital solutions and technologies to significantly improve the efficiency, accuracy, and quality of work in dental labs while enhancing collaboration with dentists and providing better patient care.
The learning curve and training requirements for dental laboratory jobs can vary depending on the specific technologies and tools being implemented. However, there are some common steps and considerations involved:
Learning to use CAD software is a crucial step for many dental laboratory jobs. Technicians must become proficient in creating 3D models of dental restorations, making design adjustments, and exporting files for production. If the lab uses CAM software for milling or 3D printing, technicians should receive training on how to set up and operate these systems. This includes knowledge of material selection, machine calibration, and maintenance.
If 3D printing is part of the workflow, technicians need training on the specific 3D printers and materials being used. This includes understanding print parameters, post-processing techniques, and troubleshooting common issues.
Training may also be required to use spectrophotometers for digital shade matching. Technicians should learn how to measure and analyse tooth colour accurately.
Dental lab technicians must grasp the entire digital workflow process, from receiving digital impressions to finalising restorations. This includes understanding how to integrate digital scans, design, and manufacturing processes seamlessly.
Dental labs often need to manage digital files, patient records, and case tracking systems. Training may include the use of dental laboratory management software to organise and streamline the workflow.
Training should encompass quality control procedures to ensure the accuracy and precision of digital restorations. Technicians need to learn how to validate the fit, colour, and overall quality of the final products. Labs must follow strict, best-practice quality control procedures – overseen by experienced senior technicians – to ensure the accuracy and consistent quality of all restorations they produce.
Effective communication and collaboration with dentists and other dental professionals are crucial. Technicians should be trained in how to exchange digital files, share feedback, and collaborate remotely using digital platforms.
Technicians should develop problem-solving skills for addressing issues that may arise during the digital workflow, such as software glitches, equipment malfunctions, or quality discrepancies.
The learning curve for adapting to digital workflows in dental labs can vary widely based on individual aptitude, prior experience, and the complexity of the technologies involved. Generally, it may take several months to become proficient in digital dentistry, and ongoing practice and exposure to a variety of cases are key to mastering these skills.
Dental labs should invest in comprehensive training programs and ensure that technicians have access to resources for continuous learning to successfully transition to digital workflows and maintain high standards of quality and efficiency.
Digital transformation in dental labs is closely aligned with the evolving trends and advancements in the dental industry. It empowers dental professionals to provide more precise, efficient, patient-centric, and data-driven care. As these trends continue to shape the industry, digital solutions will play an increasingly central role in dental lab operations and overall patient care.
Want to learn more about digital dentistry and the opportunity for dental labs? Read The Ultimate Guide to Digital Dentistry: A practical guide to going digital
Avant Dental is a full-service dental laboratory. To find out more about working with us, please email [email protected] or phone 1800 287 336