Digital Dentistry: The connection between dental labs, dentists

March 21, 2012
Alexis Martino, Market Research Analyst, The Key Group
Alexis Martino, Market Research Analyst, The Key Group

Issue 11

Advances in technology continue to improve and change the way we live our day-to-day lives. These advances also have significantly impacted the dental industry.

Advances in technology continue to improve and change the way we live our day-to-day lives. These advances also have significantly impacted the dental industry.

Advances in digital dentistry are bringing substantial changes in today’s dental offices. The traditional partnership between dental laboratories and dental offices is built on a foundation of computer assisted design and the growing trend of digital impressions. CAD/CAM systems in dental offices and dental labs are becoming standard equipment. Approximately 31% of all dental labs currently own a digital scanner and a milling system while only 12% don’t fulfill CAD/CAM requests at all.

Digital revolution

Several factors that are driving the digital revolution will continue to strengthen the bond between the lab and dental office in the future. To start, digital dentistry is beginning to prove itself as a more cost-effective and beneficial technology for both dental offices and dental labs compared to traditional methods.

The initial cost of the technology carries a considerable price tag; however this hasn’t deterred the larger labs (more than 25 employees) as they are running at full force toward purchasing this equipment. Research shows that roughly half (53%) of larger labs are operating with a CAD/CAM system and scanner and producing CAD/CAM crowns and bridges in their facility. Many of these large labs indicated the technology was worth the cost because of the results it delivers, the variety of material choices and the operational efficiencies. 

In addition to the dental labs that own complete CAD/CAM milling systems, another 24% of the dental labs currently own a digital scanner. The scanners have converted a very tactile process of building crowns and bridges into a precise design exercise driven by software on a computer. The vast majority (82%) of larger labs currently own scanners as the market continues to absorb this technology. The scanners are used for both models and impressions by the dental labs.

New impressions

Digital impressions are currently accepted by 27% of all dental labs but the trend is growing. Roughly 13% of small labs currently accept digital files from dental offices, while 67% of large labs are actively receiving digital files.

Many of the small labs have indicated they have no incentive to purchase the software until their dental clients make the switch. As more and more dentists implement digital impression taking technologies, dental labs originally reluctant to spend the money on the technology will either have to meet this demand or risk losing valuable clients.

Expect more growth

Today’s new generation of dentists is greatly impacting the state of digital dentistry as they graduate from dental school. Younger dentists fresh out of school recognize the return on investment they can receive from digital dentistry technologies. The entire restoration process is expedited more quickly and the precision is increased compared to traditional methods, all the while enhancing the patient experience.

As younger and more tech savvy dentists continue to enter the market, the number of dental labs buying the CAD/CAM systems and ancillary support systems will continue to grow. The relationship between the dental labs and dental offices will be forever connected by the Internet highway as digital patient information easily passes between computers. Dentist and dental laboratories will embrace the digital revolution together as their businesses evolve to keep up with the growing technology.