What technology can ACTUALLY do for your dental lab

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The next 13.5 percent are the “early adopters.” The next 34 percent are the “early majority,” followed by another 34 percent as the “late majority.”


Amidst the hype, here's how going digital can pay dividends for your lab and improve your workflow


The “law of diffusion of innovation” has long been used to explain how technology is disseminated. There is a definite pattern of adoption of any product, service or technique over time. The first 2.5 percent of any population are “innovators”-the people who wait in line to get the newest, latest and greatest piece of technology.

The next 13.5 percent are the “early adopters.” The next 34 percent are the “early majority,” followed by another 34 percent as the “late majority.” This leaves the remaining 16 percent of the population as the “laggards.” This law of diffusion of innovation also shows that, for a product to get mass market success or acceptance, that product must be accepted by those innovators and early adopters that make up the top 15 to 18 percent of the population. Then that product will almost always continue on down our scale of adoption until eventually it achieves common usage across an industry. This is known as “crossing the chasm." 

Related: How to understand and handle today's digital workflow

In the dental world, CAD/CAM has crossed this chasm and reached mass market acceptance. Dental labs have used the technology for more than a decade now, with more and more coming online every day. The technology is no longer in its infancy yet it continues to amaze people as it progresses and grows. Today, we see different technologies in several areas developing at the same time in parallel. This has given rise to some exciting partnerships. For example, the newest materials are getting more and more esthetic, stronger and predictable. This, in particular, is very exciting because we are now able to design things on our CAD stations that, prior to the development of these new materials, could not be manufactured cost-effectively. 

Years ago, we watched as some of the innovators led the way into digital dentistry. At that time, each digital decision could be life or death for a company. With the costs associated with some of the equipment, a wrong decision could put a company so far behind it would take years to recover. As these costs come down considerably and the usability of the technology has gone up, today’s labs don’t face such dire consequences for a poor decision. Now we see the decisions made by the innovators and early adopters helping the field as a whole with missteps not nearly as costly. 

The List: Top 5 CAD/CAM terms you need to know

Enhancing communication

As a technician at an innovative lab, we used our design software to enhance communication with our doctors. This is certainly something every lab should consider doing today, and I encourage it strongly. The most often-used communication method in our lab was simple screen shots. These were used to show draw issues on bridges, space issues or potential improvements in prep design. When we can show a doctor visually exactly how open a margin will be due to draw issues, our communication is infinitely more effective than would be possible with a phone call. 


We can now enhance this communication by sending STL files. I have a free app, STL viewer, on my phone [Editor's note: Here's an iOS version with good reviews that costs $2.99] so I can look at files from anywhere. This adds to the communication and service we offer our clients. Often, the need for many screen shots can be fixed by simply sending a couple STL files. I find most people appreciate this level of service.

Next page: Picking the right system ...




I speak to labs about the upgrade possibilities for their CAD/CAM systems on a daily basis primarily because laboratories have become extremely dependent on their design stations. These upgrades could be software or hardware related. 

Must-read: How to increase success in implants via a digital workflow

One mistake I often see involves the laboratory being so anxious to upgrade its software that it does not wait until the newest version is truly ready for full-time production. The reason for this? New features that look great at a trade show but only apply to 5 percent of what we’re doing suddenly become more important than the other 95 percent of the cases that need to be done on any particular day. 

Moving beyond “open vs. closed”

Recently, it seems the argument of open as opposed to closed CAD systems has gained precedence in what most people were talking about. Personally, I believe we have now moved past this (it seems open software won, if you didn’t know). Today, in my opinion, it is the company you purchase the system from that should become more and more important. Is it worth $30,000 to have a CAD system you don’t use? Most of us would say no. Yet, doing a little research into the support and training any particular company provides with the purchase of a system can often take a huge backseat to saving a few dollars on the initial purchase cost of the system itself. 

As the systems have become more open, the responsibility of the lab has grown. The beauty of the closed systems is that they are more plug-and-play. You may not have the versatility of an open system, but you can rest assured it should work. 

How to handle digital files from your dental clients

Please bear in mind that the open systems today are still not fully open. This is for the best. Running CAM (or nesting) software is a different skill than being a dental technician. I believe newer systems will become more and more open. This may eventually hurt the laggards. By the time these labs get involved in technology, they will have a steeper learning curve than the rest of us.

In conclusion, I believe now is the time to get on board with digital technology. Missteps aren’t as costly as they once were and there are more and more companies to partner with that will help you get the most out of the technology through on-going, in-depth technical support and training. The sooner you adapt to the latest digital technology, the easier it will be to reap maximum benefit in your lab.

This article is part of DLP's Modern Dental Artistry, meaning it has special interest for anyone who is a part of the esthetic, cutting-edge workflow. Click here to find out more