Imagine Abbott without Costello, Fred without Ginger, Laurel without Hardy. Alone Abbott, Fred and Laurel were half the show. With their partners, however, the screen became the playground from which they became icons.
This dynamic is no different when dental laboratories and manufacturers partner on product development. The laboratory brings hands-on, real-world experience and a clearly defined need and the manufacturer provides technical expertise, research and development experience and scientific methodology and procedures; together, both parties thrive.
Here, three of the largest laboratories in the country share their experiences developing alloys and techniques with The Argen Corp., the largest supplier of dental gold alloys in the world and unique in that its product line is exclusively alloys. These alloy developments have had a positive impact on their own businesses as well as the marketplace at large and their stories have a common element: the dedication, expertise and availability of Argen's research and development team.
Green Dental Laboratory
Part of Green Dental Laboratory's marketing philosophy is branding its own restorations and creating demand for a product only it can deliver. In addition to developing a unique identity, another benefit of branding is material flexibility. "We want flexibility to react to market changes but also want to stay with the same brand names we're already using. For instance, we market our zirconia restorations as PMZ All-Ceramic so if we want to switch to a different zirconia or milling system, we can do so without changing the product in the eyes of the dentist," explains Scott Riggan, CDT, general manager of the 200-person full-service lab in Heber Springs, Arkansas.
When the laboratory wanted to create and market a 99.7% gold crown it calls CeraGoldTM, it worked closely with Argen to develop a technique that worked with the company's Goldtech Bio 2000 alloy. With Argen's assistance, for example, the lab changed to induction casting and switched from stones that can impregnate particles into the gold to carbide burs at a very slow speed. Riggan also made sample crowns that Argen tested for bond integrity.
"Argen was helpful in developing an efficient and profitable technique to fabricate Ceragold. It's been a very good seller for us. We have averaged as many as 50 units per day," says Riggan.
In describing the lab's long-term partnership with Argen, Riggan says it's akin to having a metallurgist on staff. "The research and development team is well informed about alloy composition and techniques and is always willing to troubleshoot any issues we have. When needed, an Argen technical representative will fly out to Arkansas to help us," says Riggan.
Lord's Dental Studio
Lord's Dental Studio was one of the first laboratories to embrace the press-to-metal concept and Argen was instrumental in helping the laboratory find the right alloy on which to press. After successfully pressing crowns to a high noble and lower-cost alloy for several years, the laboratory wanted to press to a noble metal. The goal was twofold: to press bridges and give their dentist-clients a third, middle-of-the-road price option.
Argen and Lord's set out to collaborate on a new alloy that would fulfill that goal. That collaboration resulted in Argelite 71, a 71% palladium and 10% silver alloy that's ideal for pressing crowns and bridges.
Although Lord's had done a lot of internal testing, the lab went one step further by involving its Dentists' Advisory CouncilTM, a group of dentists who test new materials and techniques before the lab makes them available to its customers. The Council participated in a blind study comparing the esthetics of layered vs. pressed Argelite 71 crowns; the dentist members favored pressed crowns over layered, and selected one particular pressable ingot system which, despite being the highest priced, Lord's now uses for its pressable restorations.
"We knew the materials would work well in the lab but then we wanted to know how they work clinically, how they work in the hands of the dentist and how they hold up in a patient's mouth. Our Dentists' Advisory Council is intimately involved with ensuring that our products and services are 'peer approved'," says Don Warden, president of the 150-person laboratory in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Because of the esthetics and strength, pressed-to-Argelite 71 restorations have proven to be a great seller for the laboratory; plus, it's experiencing lower remakes with pressable restorations as compared with PFM units. "Argen was able to take our ceramic and custom fit an alloy to it. Like any good partner, they listen to us, they challenge us and they solve problems for us," says Kris Van Laanen, the laboratory's vice president of technology and training.
Glidewell Laboratories, Newport Beach, California, and Argen often join forces on alloy development and because the laboratory has a 20-person R&D department outfitted with an Instron machine, dilatometer and electron microscope, it's in a unique position to accelerate that research and development process. Working together, they can bring an alloy to market much more quickly, which is especially valuable in a fluctuating metal market.
The fixed department produces more than 2,000 PFM restorations a day so it also brings an extensive hands-on, real-world perspective. "When the price of gold and palladium fluctuated in the past, Argen was able to offer us alternative alloys with lower precious metal contents. By utilizing these alloys in our production, we significantly reduced our costs per unit and improved efficiency. This shared focus on R&D has allowed us to continue to collaborate over the years. We tell them what we're working on and they tell us what they think. We are constantly looking for new products that will benefit the dental community," explains Rudy Ramirez, CDT, general manager of fixed prosthetics.
Glidewell's R&D goals are twofold: to make sure products are safe and sound, and to expand access to affordable dentistry. "Half the population doesn't go to the dentist because it's too expensive. We're all about keeping costs down and developing products that enable more patients to afford treatment," says Ramirez. "In this business, it's important to have partners like Argen who genuinely want to work together to come up with solutions that are cost effective and work for everyone.