"Our industry is now in an evolutionary and transitory stage. The developments of the past 10 years, including CAD/CAM, advances in other technologies and the decline in formal educational programs have led to a 'tipping point'," said moderator Bill Mrazek, BS, CDT, during his opening remarks at the State of the Profession II meeting sponsored by the Illinois Dental Laboratory Association (IDLA) and the Chicagoland Dental Technician Study Group (CDTSG) in Lisle, Illinois this September. The event was organized by IDLA and CDTSG board members Mrazek and Paul Vena; IDLA President and CDTSG board member Mark Williamson, CDT; and IDLA Executive Director Karen Sharpe.
LMT President Judy Fishman, the first of nine panelists to speak to an audience of approximately 50 lab owners and technicians, added that the industry has begun to "gray" in the last decade as well, with many lab owners and technicians quickly approaching retirement age. "We are getting old," she stated, "but not too old to forget that with change comes opportunity." After identifying digital technologies as having the greatest impact on the profession in the past decade, she encouraged attendees to pursue the opportunities these technologies offer, which was a key theme of the meeting.
Offering an example of cutting-edge technology, Simon Ghosh, regional director for Cadent, presented an overview of the iTero digital impression-taking system. Using a hand-held scanner, dentists scan a patient's teeth, creating a three-dimensional image on a chairside computer screen. The software checks the dentist's preparation, prompting him to make corrections while the patient is still in the chair. The digital data is then used to generate a model with removable dies from which the laboratory can fabricate a variety of restorations. Since the conventional impression and its inherent problems are eliminated, retakes and remakes are decreased, and accuracy is increased.
Rachel Miller, regional account manager with Materialise Dental USA, presented another digital technology: SimPlant™, the company's diagnostic implant-planning software. Eliminating the need for the flap surgical technique, this software also creates a computerized, 3-D image using data gathered from a CT scan. The image allows for virtual placement of the implant and fabrication of stereolithographic models and surgical stents, all of which assure accurate implant placement and reduce prosthesis delivery time to the patient.
Panelist Jerry Ragle, president of Ragle Dental Laboratory, urged attendees to, "embrace technology for future success." He discussed what it's like to run a lab with his son, Nick, and how their differing opinions of technology, as well as business management, are fusing to create success. Ragle has always been aware of the importance of keeping up-to-date with technology to maintain a profitable lab; however, having a 23-year-old business partner has given him a new perspective. "I'm impressed with today's technology, but Nick thinks the future is yet to come."
Several panelists encouraged attendees who have yet to get involved with new technology to use outsourcing as a way to, "try before you buy." David Lesh, CDT, president of Dale Dental, pointed out that labs should shift their thinking from being manufacturers to providers of restorative products and that domestic outsourcing for high-tech products is the way to provide any service a dentist wants, without investing in expensive equipment. He encouraged labs to, "make outsourcing effective and profitable by maintaining control of fit, function and esthetics: fabricate your own models, outsource copings and understructures and then apply the porcelain yourselves."
NADL Co-Executive Director Ricki Braswell agreed with Lesh's service-oriented philosophy, reminding attendees to work smarter, not harder. "Lab owners should become as business-minded as they are technology-minded and remain competitive by setting goals and standards to achieve a professional best," she said.
Addressing the need for industry standards, NBC Chairman Bart Donnell, CDT, explained the NBC's goal to mandate standards and its role in testing competency, supporting clinical education for technicians and dentists, and advocating education and standards. "As an industry, we have to respect and market our knowledge," he said.
The meeting ended with a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session, during which one attendee, while commending the panel on a job well done, said, "I have been inspired today. I am going to redefine my business goals this weekend and start implementing them on Monday!"
For information on the next meeting, contact Karen Sharpe at 800-942-IDLA, 630-355-7912 or click here to send her an e-mail.