Your lab, your partner

March 21, 2012

I have to start this article off with a big “wow.” Wow! How can I limit this to just one tip, when my lab does so much? I feel very fortunate to have a lab, strike that, THE lab, that gives me exactly what I need when I need it and meets even my unrecognized needs. It all starts with our “pearl” of the day, communication. From single-unit crowns to bridges to smile designs, there is a lot of information that is exchanged between me and my lab tech, Jeff Austin, at Utah Valley Dental Lab.

I have to start this article off with a big “wow.” Wow! How can I limit this to just one tip, when my lab does so much? I feel very fortunate to have a lab, strike that, THE lab, that gives me exactly what I need when I need it and meets even my unrecognized needs.

It all starts with our “pearl” of the day, communication. From single-unit crowns to bridges to smile designs, there is a lot of information that is exchanged between me and my lab tech, Jeff Austin, at Utah Valley Dental Lab.

As a dentist, you must feel comfortable and confident with your clinical abilities. That involves investing in advanced education. Today’s crown prep isn’t the same as the one I did after graduating from dental school in 1989. Techniques have changed, materials have changed, and mostly, I have changed.

Now I realize the more I give my lab, the more I get in return. I include comments on shape, function, shade and materials on my lab slip. I also include patient photos as well as photos of the shade tabs, prepped tooth and adjacent teeth. Following an established protocol with my lab for each type of case makes our work together much more predictable. I communicate my preferences for occlusion, contacts and other critical components to achieve my desired results. Technologies such as e-mail, texting and video conferencing make labs that are thousands of miles away feel like they are next door. There are few excuses left for not achieving excellence in dentistry.

An open mind is key to good communication. Many of my colleagues have an adversarial relationship with their lab, and the only communication they have is negative. I view Utah Valley Dental Lab as a partner. When there are issues (and there will be if you do enough work), we keep the focus on the solution to the problem, rather than who is at fault. My lab has a vested interest in my success, and we enjoy working together to achieve our common goals.

Remember, you can turn to your lab technician for advice. Ask for suggestions on the best materials for restoring cases. Generally, top labs are your best resource for new materials and approaches to solving restorative needs. In my case, Jeff at UVDL introduced me to IPS e.max Press…a product that in many cases eliminates the need for copings and allows me to have a virtually metal-free practice.

The key message here? Work with your lab. Forge a relationship with your technician that you can enjoy together. Actively seek the lab’s opinion and be open to criticism when your work isn’t adequate to create the optimal restoration. We’re all on the same team and want the same thing-sound, successful, predictable dentistry. 

Jeff Austin and Jim Thacker of Utah Valley Dental Lab contributed to this article.