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Dental Lab Products 2023 Innovation Guide

Dental Lab ProductsDental Lab Products December 2022
Volume 44
Issue 6

Dental lab industry leaders share what they see ahead for the industry in the coming year.

December 1, 2022

Voices from the Industry

Stef Vanneste, vice president and general manager of dental at 3D Systems

Stef Vanneste, vice president and general manager of dental at 3D Systems

“The digital dental segment is growing rapidly. Oral specialists in segments such as orthodontics, prosthodontics, and implantology are increasingly embedding digital workflows in their daily practice. This year we have seen increased interest not only from dental labs, but also from clinics to invest in digital applications.

For 2023, we intend to build on our training and educational programs. Keeping this focus is key to ensuring better patient outcomes. With the introduction of new printers and new 3D printing materials on the horizon, we hope to enlarge the number of applications and further open up the field of digital dentistry.”

stacked printing_NextDent 5100_model for ortho
Kris Schermerhorn, CDT, owner of Northern Virginia Dental Laboratory

Kris Schermerhorn, CDT, owner of Northern Virginia Dental Laboratory

“In 2022, our industry has seen great advances in both materials and digital workflows. While the last 15 years of digital milling focused primarily on crown and bridge materials, I noted an increased focus on milling plastics and other polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) applications in 2022. There is an increased demand for PMMA and other plastics for production of removable restorative solutions. While milling set the standard for digital production of removables, 3D printing has undoubtedly made some advances in the last year. However, it is still a somewhat new technology, and most clinicians or dental lab technicians are not willing to rely on 3D printing to fabricate permanent restorative solutions. Digital dental milling technology and millable materials have been used for many years by dental lab technicians and have a reputation for accurate and reliable restorative outcomes.

Looking forward, I expect we will continue to see positive expansion of millable materials and digital workflows. With innovative milling solutions like Roland DGA’s DGSHAPE DWX-53DC dry dental milling machine with automatic disc changer, laboratories can become more efficient and expand their production capabilities. The DWX-53DC’s combination of faster milling strategies and larger tooling make milling partials and dentures a smart and profitable choice for dental laboratories. Materials like PMMA, DuraFlex™ and Zirlux Acetal are being produced in puck form, and laboratories can complete digital workflows using materials proven reliable on the analog side.”

Roland DGA’s DGSHAPE DWX-53DC dry dental milling machine with automatic disc changer,
Stijn Hanssen, director of dental applications and business development at 3D Systems

Stijn Hanssen, director of dental applications and business development at 3D Systems

“The trend of digitizing procedures and treatments in dentistry is continuing in full force. More and more practitioners are embracing digital technology in their practices, allowing an expanded scope of procedures to benefit from digital workflows. 3D printing is well established within dental laboratories, and dental offices are beginning to embrace it as well. With smaller, more affordable 3D printers, combined with improved materials, chairside printing for crowns and bridges is becoming more popular. Next year promises to be another very exciting year for digital dentistry and 3D printing in general. While hardware improvements seem to focus mainly on platform size, the material developments will be key in enabling the full integration of 3D printing in the dental office for long-term restorations.”

December 1, 2022

The Future: The Cost of Progress: A Look at the Future of Dental Laboratories

History is easy to write about. The future? A littler murkier. The dental laboratory industry has decreased from about 18,000 labs when I started in 1970 to about 4500 today. Meanwhile, the number of general dentistry offices has increased from roughly 100,000 to more than 150,000 today. Why the difference in growth rates?

In a word: consolidation.

The average number of lab employees 50 years ago was 2.7. Today, the average is closer to 10. Every indication is the overall lab count in the industry will continue to decrease to approximately 3500 over the next decade. Manufacturing equipment and automation processes will result in productivity gains for those who can afford the high entry costs, but squeeze out those who choose not to make the investment.

Adoption of digital dentistry surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Intraoral scanners are more and more prevalent. It won’t be long before they supplant conventional impressions as the primary method. Even conventional impressions are being digitized directly upon receipt via purpose-built micro-CT scanning machines, instead of being used to pour and scan stone models (Figures 1 & 2). Why suffer the deficiencies of plaster when you can die trim at high magnification in a virtual “mistake-free” environment?

Increased automation should make offshore labs less attractive. Homegrown robotic production and 3D printing advances will make international sites such as China an unnecessary inconvenience for United States dentists. Some labs that outsource to China are looking for other low-cost labor markets. This is not only because the autocratic government can shut down an operation unexpectedly, but also because of rising labor costs in China.

The big challenge to our industry is not international production, but the rising strength of dental support organizations (DSOs). DSOs have Wall Street investors. Their insatiable demand for profits means they want you to make less. Their business managers demand low, low prices on all lab products. We have never been trained to properly price our products for this business model. Many labs are feeling the pain of discovering they accepted cut-rate pricing that negatively impacts their profitability.

DSOs don’t require that you stay in business, only that you supply low-cost products. If their present lab fails, they just go to the next lab in line, which is excited by the short-term prospect of increasing their sales volume. To what advantage is that increase if you can’t sustain it?

Before 3D printing, lithium silicate, and zirconia, one could make a fair living as a dental ceramist. If you’re like me, you were one of those. New materials made us irrelevant. Today we print models that were once made in our plaster department. Printing can process a full denture? How did that happen?

It’s not only the materials and equipment that changed us. It’s the development of software that makes designing patient-specific dental prostheses easier. We all go to a trade show and marvel at exciting advances being made. All increase our productivity while challenging our usual ways of making teeth, which costs some of our employees their careers. It’s progress, but on a personal level, it hurts.

The future? From this perspective, it seems like it will hold more hurt. Automated milling machines are taking over. If you are a ceramist, uninterested in reinventing yourself or investing in perpetually advancing technology, you’d better retire soon. Even CAD designers will be challenged by artificial intelligence (AI). AI replaces the human decision-making process with unvarying precision.

We are becoming less dental technicians and more business operators. We used to handcraft custom products. Now we are engineers learning to automate mass customization (Figures 3 & 4). Despite their unique nature, restorations will continue to become more like assembly line products—akin to packaged goods hanging in a store.

Let’s hope the patient benefits from this change. Ten years from now, another 30% of us will no longer be here.

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