The Dental Lab Expert – 2022: the year of ups and downs

Ashley Byrne, the Dental Lab Expert, reflects on the trials and tribulations of 2022 and what the industry needs to prepare for in 2023. 

By my own standards, 2022 was flipping hard work!

As I write this, we sit in the middle of a postal strike, couriers almost collapsing under the additional volumes, and work either stuck getting to us or being delivered late, and all with the usual Christmas rush.

The year has flown by, and with so many industry changes in the past 12 months, I don’t think there has ever been a year like it.

A year like no other

Post-pandemic we saw a huge surge of work for many private labs, as NHS dentistry became near impossible to get and the system buckled under the weight of catching up with treatments that were not undertaken through the Covid-19 lockdowns.

We know many NHS labs struggled as the demand fell, and have spent the year re-inventing themselves as a result, showing their agility and ability to adapt to a changing market.

For many lab owners, 2022 will be the year that everyone needed employees and yet there were seemingly no dental technicians left. I have advertised for the entire year for a model worker and did not receive a single CV.

The dwindling numbers of technicians in this ever-growing industry is a concern for all of us and I’m still unsure what the future holds for that.

We are seeing technician schools starting to embrace digital, so there is light at the end of the tunnel. But it feels a long way away at present.

I applaud all who are pushing the education system forward. I know it’s an uphill battle and an almost thankless task, but we are behind you.

Something has to change

The term DSO is one I had not heard much before 2022, but it’s here and it’s here to stay. Dental Support Organisations (DSO), or ‘corporates’ as we more commonly know them, have really taken hold this year.

When any industry struggles in employment numbers, industrialisation occurs. Our industry is hitting that hard.

From huge practice chains now buying labs to supply themselves, right through to stand alone individual groups of labs, this shift is now at the forefront of dentistry.

Are these good for dentistry? At this stage, I just don’t know. But so far they do seem to be doing a good job.

Something has to change in dentistry, and I think 2023 will be the year that the DSO’s really take hold and we need to prepare ourselves for that.

Record growth

Speaking of industrialisation, that also remains at the core of what labs are doing. Digitisation is our very own version of this, and this year has been the year of the IOS (intraoral scanner).

We have seen record growth in our lab. Around 80% of all work is now from a scanner and next year we intend to really push to get as close to 100% as possible.

If you don’t take IOS files at your lab now, you need to wake up and start investing. With many DSOs and large labs offering ‘free scanners’ in return for work contracts, IOS is only growing.

Milling and printing remains the work horse in our labs. This is complimented by our subcontractors for milled bars, chromes, anti-snoring devices, printed metals, and even random items like cast post and cores. They remain key parts of our business and I have no doubt these services will grow with us next year.

I think for all of us, 2022 has been a year of change and positive reflection for many.

Yet sadly, many also decided the lab industry was no longer for them. I’ve seen an eye watering number of small labs simply pack up and leave the industry for jobs like lorry drivers and postmen.

Thank you

Blimey, it’s been an incredibly hard but wonderful year. It’s thrown curveballs and challenges like I’ve never seen, and it’s been a year of learning for me – mostly from mistakes, but hey-ho, we are all human!

I’d like to finish by thanking FMC for giving me the chance to have my monthly reflection (ramblings?) on our industry.

I also thank all of you, the readers, who without I wouldn’t have the chance to write these small articles.

We also need to thank the dentists and practices because, without them, we wouldn’t have an industry.

And of course we need to thank ourselves as technicians for being the warm friendly bunch that we are, and how open and sharing this industry has become over the last year few years.

Lastly, and for me most importantly, I need to thank my incredible team at Byrnes. You guys rock the world and without you bunch of stars, I couldn’t be in this position to the write these articles.

Thanks to everyone – let’s have a wonderful break over the festive season and I wish you all a happy Christmas and an outstanding New Year.

Bring on 2023!

Catch up with previous columns from the Lab Expert:

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