How to interview a dental lab

March 21, 2012
Renee Knight

Issue 5

If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your dental lab, you have to ask the right questions. You can’t just assume that a lab uses a certain type of material or that it’s certified; you have to ask to find out for sure. And you can’t assume your new lab technician knows exactly what you’re looking for in a lab. Not only do you have to ask questions, you have to lay out your desires and expectations as a client.

If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your dental lab, you have to ask the right questions.

You can’t just assume that a lab uses a certain type of material or that it’s certified; you have to ask to find out for sure. And you can’t assume your new lab technician knows exactly what you’re looking for in a lab. Not only do you have to ask questions, you have to lay out your desires and expectations as a client.

Not sure what to ask? Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about the lab you and your patients depend on.

Start by talking to the right people. Too often, a doctor will enter a relationship with a lab after only talking with the administrative folks who enter the cases or verify certain data, said Daxton Grubb, President of R-dent Dental Laboratory. That isn’t enough. To really get to know the lab, you need to talk with the lab owner, department manager and even technicians if at all possible. This is the time to establish relationships with key players in the lab.

“If doctors haven’t really established that contact with key owners, it seems like it’s less personable,” Grubb said. “They’re more likely to outsource their products to domestic or even offshore labs without notification, or use “knock-off” brands in place of name-brands requested by the doctor. This happens frequently with products such as Valplast, Lava and denture teeth. It gives labs a little more ownership and trust if they feel like they’ve established that relationship.”

Find out what materials they use. This is a question Grubb said doctors never ask, but should. Too often doctors assume labs use a high-quality material, when in fact they use a lower quality substitute. This could mean you’re not getting what you’re paying for, and your patients aren’t getting the highest quality restoration possible. Beyond that, Grubb said doctors should want to know what materials their lab uses for FDA and OSHA reasons.

“If the doctor asks you what metals or porcelains you use, you’re much less likely to substitute something,” Grubb said. “If the lab never told the doctor and the doctor never asked what the lab uses, the lab is not going to feel wrong if they use cheaper porcelains.”

Ask about certification and quality systems. When interviewing a lab, you should ask about technician and facility certification, said NADL president Chris Waldrop, CDT, of Burdette Dental Laboratory. Certification illustrates the lab has conformed to a national standard of competency, which is an important factor for a dentist who’s starting a professional relationship with a new lab. Labs should have quality systems in place and be willing to demonstrate those systems. If they’re not willing to do this, that could indicate a problem with the lab and is a sign you might want to consider other options.

Find out what products they recommend for certain situations. If you’re changing labs, you can’t assume your new lab uses the same products as your old lab, Grubb said. It differs from lab to lab. Ask what they suggest for inlays, onlays and single-unit posteriors. And don’t be afraid to challenge the lab and ask why technicians use what they use. Ask about the products’ pros and cons. Become knowledgeable about the products your lab uses. Take that information and share it with your team members, so they can become more knowledgeable as well.

What about recalls? Recalls happen, and it’s important for dentists to know the procedure when they do, Grubb said. Ask the labs you interview how they will know which restorations are recalled, and how you will be notified if you need to bring a patient back in.

Ask the questions in person. Asking these questions over the phone or via e-mail isn’t enough for you to really get to know the lab. Visiting the lab gives you a chance to see the technology they use, and makes it possible for you to put faces with names, Waldrop said. Dentistry is all about relationship building, and that on site visit helps labs and dentists connect.

“We’re in a people business and it’s a communication intensive business,” Waldrop said. “You want to make sure you can rely on these people. Certification gives some of that but really spending time on the front end to get to know people is important.”

If you take the time to visit the lab and get to know the people you’re working with, they’re more likely to take ownership when they see one of your cases come in. Talk with the lab technicians if possible. Shake their hand and take the time to introduce yourself.  

No more excuses. Grubb and Waldrop both said many dentists don’t take the time to come in for a tour. It could be because they don’t see the value in a face-to-face visit, the lab they work with is too far away, they think they’re too busy or they’re simply uncomfortable with the idea of it. But the dentists who do make the time for a visit learn a lot about how a lab works and what happens to the cases they send in. They learn about the technology and they start building relationships. When they finally do come in, many of them say they wish they had done it sooner, Waldrop said.


That interaction, that face time is key to any business relationship, Grubb said. It makes it easier for you to make that phone call when you have questions or concerns about a case.

“If you’re dealing with a lab in a local area, you need to go meet the people doing the work,” Grubb said. “I don’t see how you can rely on a lab that’s such a key part of your business if you haven’t visited the facility.”

Take a look around. While you’re there, take a tour of the lab. Get a feel for how it operates, if there’s disorganization or dysfunction. Take notice of how the staff interacts with each other, Waldrop said. If morale is low or there are employees not interfacing, that could be a sign you need to move on.

This also is a great opportunity to see how clean the lab is, Grubb said.

“Does it look like a place you’d want a crown made to go in your mouth?,” Grubb said. “You need to make a crown like it’s going in your own mouth. If a doctor is using a lab and wouldn’t use a crown from that lab in his own mouth, he needs to change labs.”

Make your wishes known. The lab interview isn’t just about finding out about the lab, it’s also about making sure they know where you stand on certain issues, Grubb said. If you don’t want your restorations sent offshore, tell them. If there’s a certain material you expect them to use for your restorations, tell them that, too. Don’t be shy. If you tell them up front what your expectations are, they’ll be less likely to do something with your cases that you don’t like. And the person you’re talking with should do the same during the conversation. If the lab sends restorations offshore, this is the time for that to come out.

In the end, it all comes back to communication. Interviewing your lab will only make your relationship stronger, which will make you more confident in the people who work on your cases. You need to be able to trust and rely on your lab. Getting to know the people who work there and what they do will only make that easier.

“Doctors really need to dig in and make certain they are aware of everything that’s going on with their lab,” Grubb said. “Know the people, know the materials. Don’t assume anything.”


Renee Knight is a senior editor for DPR. Contact her at rknight@advanstar.com.