Traditional dental labs are today pressured from many sides-in-clinic milling, price competition and regulatory demands all pose serious threats to their future business efforts. Luckily, digital technologies are already providing direct answers to counter these upsetting realities. By going digital, labs can push right back.
Competition from in-clinic milling
Using in-clinic milling, dentists can set up their own manufacturing service to produce the final crowns directly in their clinic. This naturally means less business for the lab.
Dentists who invest in in-clinic milling are clearly motivated by the opportunity to significantly reduce their lab service costs. However, the ROI calculations they are presented with will often be based on prices from traditional labs that still use manual methods.
Labs equipped to use CAD/CAM can be more productive and thereby provide restoration services at lower prices than traditional labs while maintaining a high level of quality. Digital labs are closing the price gap between lab services and in-clinic milling, making in-clinic milling systems less attractive and changing the dentist’s investment priorities.
Dentists who obtain cost-efficient services by using digital labs will potentially be able to realize more business profit from treating more patients rather than spending time on in-house manufacturing. Furthermore, the restoration quality, material choices and high esthetics that dedicated modern labs are able to provide will once again weigh heavily on their scales.
For many labs, lower price/quality laboratories pose the greatest threat to their existence. An increasing number of dentists and competing labs choose to send or outsource their restoration work to cheaper labs or regions. While this arrangement implies certain disadvantages in relation to turn-around time and quality, the savings are too significant to ignore.
CAD/CAM can change these trends by enabling labs to compete with low-cost services. The high productivity per technician enabled through the digital process helps to bring local lab prices down to a competitive level.
For dentists, the slight price differences that may remain will become insignificant when weighed against local service benefits such as faster delivery, consistent quality enabled by CAD/CAM and closer supportive relationships with the lab.
Increasing regulatory demands
As requirements stiffen, strengthen and escalate to higher levels, it is becoming increasingly critical that dental laboratories become compliant with standards and regulations from bodies such as the as the FDA and ISO. Labs need to employ documented procedures and methods that will ensure the consistent high quality of their products.
Acquiring a regulatory-compliant digital CAD/CAM system can be the most efficient way to fulfill a large part of the regulatory demands imposed on labs, because the workflows and output produced by these systems will already be FDA- and ISO-compliant. As one of their selection criteria, labs should consider the provider’s regulatory status before investing in a new system.
So Going Digital is the answer … but how?
Many lab owners are aware of their challenges and may even know that digital dentistry is the right move. However, many hesitate to go there because of the baffling number of systems and conflicting claims about which one is best to buy. Labs are absolutely right to be careful.
Lab owners need to make the right choice among systems-a choice that will add business value and expand their long-term possibilities rather than limit them. Some labs continue to focus on short-term perspectives and fail to understand that their passage from traditional methods over to CAD/CAM is not one to be taken lightly, and perhaps one of the most important business decisions they have ever made.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a four-part series. Make sure you check out upcoming issues of Dental Lab Products to find out what labs need to know to handle the transition to digital, what the future of digital dentistry holds and much more. Don’t miss it!
Tais Clausen is the CTO and co-founder of 3Shape. Since the founding of 3Shape, Clausen has been a key visionary driver in the company’s technology development. His close, almost daily involvement with dental labs and clinics using 3Shape worldwide is the integral factor underlying his recognized expertise when it comes to the current and future needs of modern dental businesses.