A look at dental lab material trends, with the results of the 2022 Dental Lab Products® Materials Survey.
The work performed in dental labs can be described in many ways. Sculpture, design, engineering, production, fabrication, modeling, artistic expression, prototyping, painting, molding, and assembling are all fitting terms to cover at least some of the work being performed by dental technicians. The common factor in all these situations, like all creative situations, is the need for a medium to work with—a material.
A lot is expected from the materials used in dentistry. These materials are generally being used to stand in for all or part of a tooth, which means they must be strong yet relatively easy to shape into custom forms with minute details. Long-term durability is another key, as the final products from a dental lab must both fit and function in the oral cavity, which can be a harsh environment.
But replacing a tooth isn’t just about fit and function; these materials also must be made to look like the tooth they are replacing in many specific ways. Teeth are full of nuances and variations in shade, translucency, and surface texture, so dental lab materials must also be capable of mimicking these details and retaining that esthetic appearance over time.
This is a lot to ask of any 1 material, and it’s still quite a challenge to do with multiple materials that work together. For this reason, dental lab technicians are always on the lookout for new material options to try, and dental materials manufacturers are constantly producing new formulations and combinations to create a dizzying array of options in both types of materials and different versions of material types.
It’s a never-ending search for the perfect material, and the effort requires an ongoing education in the chemistry and physics behind the properties of each material option. That scientific foundation allows for constant experimentation and fine-tuning of workflows and processes in the search of the best possible restorative and esthetic outcomes. The decisions lab technicians make about the materials they choose are among the most important they face day in and day out.
With the results of the 2022 Dental Lab Products® Materials Survey, here is a look at some of the ways dental lab technicians view the materials they choose to work with.
Zirconia has quickly become the go-to material choice for crown and bridge labs, and that’s likely driving the responses to this question. Although pressable ceramics opened new paths for esthetic crowns and 3D-printed metals allow for faster and more precise production of metal parts, having more than 1 shade in a puck of zirconia not only aids in producing esthetic crowns and bridges but also saves time finishing the restorations.
When it comes to how lab technicians approach new materials, there’s a division between people who want to try everything, those who follow published investigators, and those who like to wait until something has developed a solid track record before giving it a go. Only a handful of technicians described themselves as being brand loyal and only testing out updates to trusted materials rather than staying on the hunt for new and better options.
When it comes to evaluating new materials, dental labs are focused on outcomes and improving efficiency. If a material is more esthetic than other options, it is a huge draw, as 94% of survey respondents said this is very important. Enhanced durability was also a highly valued quality, whereas the ability to add a new material into existing workflows was also viewed as an important factor. Although price was still an important factor and labs indicated they like being able to sample a new material, those were not rated as important as the material producing better outcomes than previously used materials.