Would you work for a dental lab?

March 21, 2012
Renee Knight
Issue 3

Dr. Bob Hewitt just couldn’t stay away. He retired in 2001, but over the years he found himself missing the technical aspects of what he used to do every day. He read articles and kept up on what was going on in the industry, but recently decided that just wasn’t enough. He didn’t want to get back into a full time practice, but he knew his skills and knowledge could be put to good use at a dental lab. So he talked with Daxton Grubb, President of R-dent Dental Laboratory, about joining the team as an on-staff dentist.

Dr. Bob Hewitt just couldn’t stay away.

He retired in 2001, but over the years he found himself missing the technical aspects of what he used to do every day. He read articles and kept up on what was going on in the industry, but recently decided that just wasn’t enough. He didn’t want to get back into a full time practice, but he knew his skills and knowledge could be put to good use at a dental lab. So he talked with Daxton Grubb, President of R-dent Dental Laboratory, about joining the team as an on-staff dentist.

Dr. Hewitt worked with R-dent for about 25 years while he was in practice, and knew he would be comfortable working with the team. He started his part-time job last June and now spends his Tuesdays and Thursdays in the lab.

What he does

Although they’re still shaping his role, Dr. Hewitt spends a lot of time talking with dentists about problems that come up with their cases, he said. Communication is one of the biggest problems that dentists and lab technicians need to overcome, and Dr. Hewitt definitely helps with that. He understands where the clinicians are coming from, and the fact that he’s a well-known dentist in the area means he has their respect. Clinicians are more likely to come to the phone when he calls, and they feel comfortable talking with him about any concerns they may have about a case. And they listen when he says there’s a problem with something they’ve sent to the lab.

“A dentist recently prescribed an all-ceramic crown on a preparation that’s not prepped for an all-ceramic crown. The lab technicians are hesitant to call and say ‘doc, this is not the right kind of prep,’” Dr. Hewitt said. “So I can be involved in that. That way of communication, dentist on dentist, the dentists seem to be more accepting of that. I can basically explain to them from a clinical standpoint what it’s going to be like in the mouth when they try to seat this restoration.”

Dr. Hewitt also can be more involved in treatment planning from the clinical perspective, something a lab technician doesn’t usually do. Again this makes the dentists feel more comfortable and confident about the case he or she sent to the lab. Dr. Hewitt spends time working out problems and helps clinicians see when something just isn’t going to work, and that saves the dentist and the lab money and frustration.

Beyond the lab

While helping with communication and fielding questions about cases are a big part or Dr. Hewitt’s job, that’s not all he does. Dr. Hewitt also teaches seminars and is working on presentations for upcoming events. He’s putting together a presentation on “nightmare cases” to share with other clinicians. During local study clubs and other meetings, he also talks about the importance of dentist/lab communication and his role in helping R-dent bridge that gap.

Dr. Hewitt serves as another perspective in the lab and helps the technicians look at things in a different way. As R-dent shifts from a high-production lab to a lab that focuses more on providing high quality work and completing difficult cases, those insights have been key.

Why it makes sense

When Dr. Hewitt approached Grubb about joining his team, Grubb thought it was a great idea. He saw it as an investment in his clients, and that’s something he said they have appreciated. They appreciate the effort it shows the lab is making to provide them with high-quality work, rather than investing in equipment that only brings the lab more money.  
And the quality of work has improved. Having someone dentists can talk with and relate to is a huge help. They respond to Dr. Hewitt much faster than any of the lab technicians, even Grubb himself. Getting all the necessary information and getting it quicker not only means higher-quality work, but it also means quicker turnaround times. That makes everyone, from the lab tech to the dentist to the patient, happy.

Is it right for you?

If you’re a young dentist right out of school, this probably isn’t the career path you want to take, Dr. Hewitt said. But if you’re getting close to retirement yet you just aren’t ready to completely leave it behind, joining a local lab may be the way to go. Dr. Hewitt’s part time role gives him the chance to do a lot of research, to stay connected with other dentists and to really put his skills to use. He’s not doing it for the money or the prestige. He’s simply someone who is passionate about his profession and wants to use his skills and knowledge to help other dentists.

“Now that I’ve finished practicing, I practiced for 40 years, and now that I’m through, I think that the information I retained from that experience makes me well suited to do what I’m doing now,” he said.

Looking back, Dr. Hewitt said it would have been a big help for him to work with an on-staff dentist while he was still practicing. He had a great relationship with his labs, but being able to work with another clinician would have made the process that much easier.

But not every lab has a dentist on staff, so not everyone can take advantage of what an on-staff dentist brings. Regardless of if the local lab you work with has a dentist, there are ways to build better relationships with your lab technicians. It’s so important to go to the lab and talk with the technicians. It doesn’t matter how busy you are; you need to take the time to do it, Dr. Hewitt said.

“Talk to the guy who’s pouring the dye, who’s marking the margins,” Dr. Hewitt said. “They need to know what steps their cases go through over here. That will enhance the end product they’re going to get. When they get something and some phase of it is not right, they know who to ask for. It’s not like it’s being thrown into a machine and manufactured. People are doing these things and they do want to do a good job, but if they don’t have the right information that’s difficult to do.”

Working together

When Dr. Hewitt calls clinicians to discuss their cases, he doesn’t act like a “know it all,” he said. He discusses problems he’s seen or tells them he needs more information, but he knows there’s a fine line. Upsetting the clinicians isn’t going to help. His goal is to work with them for a better end result.

The same is true with his co-workers in the lab. If you’re thinking of joining a lab, it’s important you have a good relationship with the lab technicians. Both sides need to have the right attitude for this to work, something Dr. Hewitt said hasn’t been a problem at R-dent.

“We all seem to have a good relationship over here,” Dr. Hewitt said. “I respect their knowledge and they respect mine. We’re partners in the thing. Nobody’s running the show, if you know what I mean.”