Can dental labs pave the way for digital dentistry in clinics?
Mark Smith explores how dental labs can help dental practices make the transition to digital dentistry more seamless.
How the number of scans taken went up in relation to COVID
A major change has been seen in dental clinics worldwide in the year 2020. I am referring to the COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent effect it has had on dental clinics.
During the first lockdown in early 2020, we saw dental clinics closing around the world. This saw a decline in cases for dental labs as well.
But as clinics started reopening and getting patients in again, there was an increase in the number of IOS scans. Why? Because clinics found that IOS scans are better from a health perspective along with also seeing the other benefits of digital dentistry.
With a major switch in clinics, labs are now running at full speed. Even more than before the pandemic.
Digitising together: two scenarios
But the question of which technology and digital product is a big one. It is perhaps the most important one in the lab-clinic partnership. Not to mention the subsequent time, cost and resources spent in choosing the best digital products, getting the technology setup, and running, as well as training the staff.
So here I present to you two scenarios where the labs can work with the clinics in making the switch to digital dentistry.
Scenario one: lab is digital, clinic is considering digital dental impressions
In a scenario where the dental lab has already invested in digital scanners and software for their workflows, and a clinic in their network is considering switching to intraoral scanning, the labs can play a significant role as technical advisers to help the clinics. Some of the areas that the lab technicians can influence clinics are:
- Choosing the intraoral scanner. Obviously, there are a lot of software features and specifications for intraoral scanners that can influence the choice of scanner for the dentist. But in many cases, the lab will have a good idea of how to operate the device and supporting software by experience. They and could therefore become an essential collaborator. Both in operating the scanner and in the process of sending the scans to the lab, which is not always straightforward
- Software for the key workflows. The software for IOS scanners is becoming more and more automated. There’s a lot to gain by having these features available if the clinic is new to digital dentistry. The lab can act as a supporting partner by evaluating the quality of digital scans at the receiving end. And then work together with the clinic to improve the quality over time. Doing this will also help minimise chair time and remakes
- Reduction of time-consuming tasks. The communication between a lab and a clinic is time consuming. It is therefore beneficial for both parties to operate on a common platform, which will greatly improve the communication flow. The easier the communication between the lab and the clinic, the more productive each entity becomes in their daily operations.
One thing that is important to note here is that technology within digital dentistry is changing at lightning speed. So when the clinic decides to make the switch, it is also a good time for the labs to assess the versions of software and lab scanners they have.
Scenario two: lab and clinic are considering going digital together
In this case, the question is if and how the lab and the clinic can hold hands and venture into digital dentistry at the same time. Here the considerations are slightly different:
- Choosing an open system that benefits both parties. Make considerations on a possible synergy between the lab and clinic systems. Such as how compatible they are in the everyday workflows
- A scalable solution that can benefit both parties. It is important to bear in mind whether upgrading and expanding the system on the clinic side will make a difference on the lab side. Or the other way around
- Assessing the support tools on offer. Sometimes support is needed on a product, but the level of expertise should ideally be anchored in a stellar understanding of cross-functional products, like from clinic to lab and vice versa. Also, the complimentary training available should also reflect a solid perspective on the user’s needs
- Integration options. In a clinic-lab collaboration, there are many sub-suppliers and manufacturers. It is vital that these integrations work seamlessly and the option for potential future integration with other manufacturers is a top priority.
Advantages of the lab and the clinic being on the same system
- Advantages for the lab. An upside is the sharing of scan file formats. All the information the lab needs is included in the shared format. This makes it easier to work with the digital files. CAD software improvements are mostly oriented around improving synergy between common systems like the ability to bypass certain mandatory preparation steps on digital scans, which is a time-consuming procedure
- Advantages for the clinic. Instantly share tracking and communication on digital orders with the lab via the common platform along with the possibility to add notes and clinical photos to support the aesthetic work. These need adding via the supplementary app. The ability to access information at all times is a great advantage.
Make it easier: customise lab order forms
All-in-all it only makes sense for labs and clinics to work closely when either party is looking to switch to digital dentistry.
If I could highlight one thing that labs should spend a little more time on, then it is tailoring their order forms towards the clinic in the digital workflow.
Options are available for labs to customise the digital order forms on the clinic side. This way the lab’s offerings are reflected more accurately, thereby lessening the need to modify incoming orders.
Help save time on both sides
It is not an easy task, but the time spent on it is worth the while. Many labs spend a significant time on adjusting incoming orders because the digital order form is inadequately filled out.
Apply customising to not just one clinic, but to all collaborating clinics, making the impact even bigger.
Additionally, staying up to date with new ways of designing, manufacturing, scanning, and collaborating in dentistry is key. It is a fast-moving industry where latest editions and improvements are a constant. It is good to keep an eye out on these as there might be something that can make a positive impact on your daily work in the lab.