The Dental Lab Expert – going digital? Don’t undervalue what you offer

the lab expert

This month the Dental Lab Expert, Ashley Byrne, discusses why you shouldn’t undervalue your services when turning to digital technology. 

The old story of a ship engineer springs to mind.

A large shipping company bought a second-hand boat on the cheap as the engine wouldn’t start. None of their engineers could get the old boat started so they asked around and a wise old man who knew this boat was flown in.

He looked at the engine and said, ‘Ah yes, I know this type of engine’. He then pulled a spanner from his bag, tweaked one nut, and in less than five minutes the engine fired up.

It was a celebration all round until they opened his bill of several thousand pounds for less than five minutes of work. The client complained: ‘How can you charge me this for just five minutes of your time?’

His response was: ‘You are not paying for five minutes of my time, you are paying for my 40 years’ experience’.

Don’t undervalue your skills

I spoke to a lab this week who are switching from analogue to printing dentures. As a result, they decided to halve their price.

I asked why and they explained it took vastly less time, so it seemed fair to pass on that saving. I couldn’t disagree more with this view and a rant started.

What about the time perfecting this? What about the knowledge, training and capital equipment? The stress from early failures? And the list goes on.

As technicians, I worry we undervalue our skills sometimes. We have spent years working late nights and perfecting false teeth. Yet when we see technology, our historical subservient attitude is to pass on the saving.

I feel technicians have been vastly under paid for years, and it’s one of the main reasons we cannot recruit new people. The start base salary post degree is peanuts. I see BSc dental technology trained technicians taking jobs in supermarkets as the starting salary is higher.

Business-minded investments

We should be using technology to our advantage and improving our working conditions, working fewer hours, and for more salary.

Capital equipment in labs is at a record high. Printers, milling machines, CAD PC’s, software, and curing devices are all new to us. They come with eye watering investment and annual licences and support packages, which is often not considered.

The life span of these machines is shorter than furnaces and pressure pots. Therefore, we need to be business-minded in these investments and how that should be reflected in our pricing model.

Look at other industries where the digital revolution hasn’t driven down the price. Conversely, in most cases, it’s increased the price.

I know from my own journey that the cost of going digital has sometimes burnt my fingers, but at no point have I reduced the costs. My product has improved in quality, my team are working smarter with fewer hours and more pay – and they are vastly happier.

Stand strong and tall

We are using digitisation to safeguard our industry, which is in more trouble now that it’s ever been. This is due to rising costs, lack of technicians, and more work than most of us can handle.

We need to stand strong and stand tall. Our years and years of experience, problem solving, and solutions providing, is now valued more than ever in the history of the dental technician profession.

When I started as a technician, I recall the mess, inefficiency, long hours, and poor pay. This revolution is allowing us to change that – providing we do not undervalue ourselves and our skill set.

We are registered dental professionals and an integral part of the dental team. It’s exciting times ahead and I’ve never been prouder to be a dental technician.

As I leave work at 5:30pm, I’ll say goodnight to my milling machines and printers who will all be working away through the night whilst I head home to a nice relaxing gin and tonic. This only works due to my 25+ years of knowledge, my team’s hard work, and a confidence in my profession to be charging the value of the product – irrelevant of the manufacturing process.

Everyone has their right to charge what they want to charge. However, my advice would always be to ensure you value yourself like the old engineer and the ship. It may take you five minutes to fix a dental solution but remember it took you decades to get to that solution.

Catch up with previous The Lab Expert columns:

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