Legacy laboratories

March 21, 2012

Schroeder Dental Laboratory hasn’t been around long enough to have created the wooden dentures that George Washington is said to have worn, but the business in Northbrook, Ill. is one of the oldest family-owned and operated dental labs in the country, its owners say.

Schroeder Dental Laboratory hasn’t been around long enough to have created the wooden dentures that George Washington is said to have worn, but the business in Northbrook, Ill. is one of the oldest family-owned and operated dental labs in the country, its owners say.

The company, which is now run by the third generation of the Schroeder family, was founded in 1919 in Chicago.

First Generation

Second Generation

“It was a little after the use of wood, but before porcelain (for dentures),” joked William Schroeder whose father, Arthur, started the company.

William credits the lab’s longevity to maintaining an emphasis on customer service, developing good communication with clients, and keeping up with changes in technology. William, who is now retired, got his start in the business in the 1950s.  

“I was just out of high school,” William said. “All my training was on the job. I was a bench technician. I just enjoyed the technical end of it.”

William cannot help but marvel at the many changes that have taken place in the business over the last 50 years.

“When I started, it (dental technology) was still in its infancy,” he said. “By the late 1950s, we were getting into porcelains fused to metals, which are still the standard.”

That was long before the computers were commonplace and the use of computer-aided design had begun to change the industry. The lab started in the early 2000s to adapt to the computer age. Initially it outsourced its computer work. At the same time, the Schroeders focused on getting training in CADCAM design. Today, the 15-person lab has invested in up-to-date technology and is a certified milling center.  

“We built the business up before we invested in the (computer) equipment,” says William’s son, Jim Schroeder, who joined the company in 1984 and currently is the lab manager. He estimates that about 80 percent of dentists still use analog impressions, but said digital impressions are becoming more common.

Jim’s wife, Janet, is the office manager and his grandmother, Huldah, worked at the company until she retired in the 1980s when she was in her eighties. Jim’s mother, Diane, also worked for a time as the office manager.

Today the company produces thousands of units a month including implants, crowns, and veneers. It has about 75 clients nationwide, many of whom have come from referrals.

The lab takes pride in its ability to use CADCAM technology to design and mill on-site, and to provide products that meet its clients’ needs.

A recent trend that the Schroeders have not embraced is the outsourcing of production overseas.

“A lot of restorations are being sent to China,” Jim Schroeder says. “We never send anything overseas.”

Another trend the lab is witnessing is increasing interest in use of porcelains over metals.

“With gold prices so high people are looking for alternatives,” Jim Schroeder noted.

He said more general dentists are getting the training to do implants, work which previously was done mostly by oral surgeons.

“They (dentists) are getting the training,” said Jim. “It’s a new revenue source for them.”

The lab also uses ShadeVision to enable dentists and the lab to share pictures of the tooth via camera and computer. Jim said it allows them to achieve a better shade and to have a stronger relationship and good communication with dentists.

“It brings the dentist and the lab closer, which benefits us both,” Jim said

Is your lab a legacy lab?

If your lab is a family operation that has been passed down several generations and you'd like to see it profiled in a future Legacy Laboratory article, contact Senior Editor Noah Levine at nlevine@advanstar.com.