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Ryan Hamm is the Editorial Director for Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics.
The Lab J&B Dental Studios is a dental lab in the Madison, Wisc., area that’s been operating since 1995. Initially a two-man lab, J&B now has four people on staff. The lab began as a traditional PFM, crown-and-bridge operation, but has since expanded to zirconia solutions in addition to traditional restorations, along with some implant work. The lab is owned by Jeff Bald, and his son Aaron is the lead CAD/CAM technician who has helped oversee the lab’s transition to a digital workflow.
The PartnerDT Technologies is the newest division of Dental Arts Laboratories, Inc., a longtime leader in the dental lab world. DT Technologies was formed in order to allow Dental Arts Laboratories, Inc. to serve the larger lab market by providing outsourcing services for a variety of restorations, along with excellent products for all kinds of solutions and the education and support to get the most out of every product they sell. DT Technologies prides itself in providing excellent support to labs of every size, ensuring that even the smallest labs have the resources to compete in a globalized, technologically advanced market.
In many ways, J&B Dental Studios’ experience with CAD/CAM and digitization is a microcosm of the industry’s experience as a whole. “Before our CAD/CAM system, we were mainly doing PFMs and full cast crowns,” explains Aaron Bald. “But then three of our doctors in the same practice started sending their work somewhere else, because they wanted to save money on the price of crowns. And it was kind of a harsh slap on the face and we realized, ‘If we want to stay in business, we need to jump on board.’”
Fortunately, they had a long-time relationship with Colonial Dental Studio, which had become a part of Dental Arts Laboratories, Inc., just before J&B was ready to move into the digital world. That meant J&B had access to cutting-edge technology as soon as they were ready. “They had packaged deals on milling systems-we were thinking about just purchasing a scanner to start, but the value and cost of the milling packages allowed us to make the leap,” Bald remembers. “So we purchased a Medit Identica scanner with exocad software and an imes-icore Coritec 240i four-axis mill.”
“I think a lot of doctors thought, ‘Metal is expensive and is there an alternative,’” Bald says. “So once we made the purchase, we were able to produce zirconia restorations in-house which decreased our turnaround time and allowed us to bring in more doctors. At first, we were only producing 20-25 percent zirconia restorations, but now we’re at 65-70 percent. They like the product we’re using, [which is] BioZX2 zirconia. They think it’s a great, high translucency zirconia. It’s strong and looks incredibly life-like in a PFZ restoration.”
Bald’s experience with making the transition to CAD/CAM with J&B seems to mirror that of the whole industry, as he combined his existing knowledge as a waxer with brand-new digital abilities that enabled him to work even faster. To hear Bald tell it, CAD/CAM didn’t necessarily improve his creativity-but it became a tool to bring his artistry to an advanced technology that could help produce restorations much, much faster. “It takes about three days for a standard case the old way, our CAD/CAM system is so much faster.” Bald says. “Milling is so accurate-it’s so accurate, we do not have to second-guess it. With PFMs, you have to paint the dies-with our CAD/CAM system, we are able to eliminate little things like that: you no longer have to invest, burn out and then cast units. It takes me seven minutes to scan cases, and five to design a full contour crown and send it to the mill. When I was waxing, I was happy if I got 10-15 units out in a day. Now I get 20-25 units done in a day, and still have time to complete additional tasks. While the mill is running, I can continue work on other tasks.”
Unsurprisingly, this has led to a dramatic increase in the financials of the lab. “We went from $2,000 a day to $3,000 of work out per day,” Bald notes. “We expected five PFM units per day out of our techs, where as now, dollar wise, I can personally do the amount that is expected of two techs in full contour zirconia. To top it all off, I can get it done within an eight-hour period. Transitioning to this digital setup has not only helped us expand our horizons for our doctors but has also allowed us to do work for some local labs. We’ve been happy with everything.”
To get those returns from their new equipment, J&B Dental Studios needed training, education and support. Fortunately, DT Technologies provided-and continues to provide-the help to get the most out of their machines and materials. “We spent about two days of training on CAD at DAL,” Bald explains. “I absorb a lot on computers, so it didn’t take me too long. I’ve only gotten better since then, learning little tricks to make things faster. Exocad is such an easy platform to use, and just from my experience overall, it’s been an easy experience to learn.
“I have everybody’s number and I can call them directly. They’re a real good group of people,” Bald continues. “For instance, in the beginning, I had an issue and FaceTimed Ryan Johnson [CTO of DT Technologies] on a Friday night and he walked me through it and we got it fixed. Their support is better than most I would say. It’s been a fantastic experience.”
However, DT Technologies’ help doesn’t stop at the technical side. “They go out of their way to help with and make you happy,” Bald says. “It’s like talking with friends when you talk to them. You want to help each other out like friends. I know they deal with doctors and we deal with doctors, but at no point do I ever feel like we’re in competition. They provide us with advertisements with the BioZX2 and they had a flyer customized with our name, so they’re all about helping us. It’s nice to have that for our laboratory.
“Going into the whole thing, I didn’t know the DT Technologies people, so just to get to know them has been a great experience,” Bald adds. “I feel like I’ve built a friendship, and I can’t say that about any other company we deal with. They’re not just a customer service rep; you build a working relationship with them, but also a friendship.”