Lab in the Limelight – The Hive Dental Laboratory

The Hive Dental Laboratory is this month’s lab in the limelight! We spoke to co-owners Emily and Eleanor Pittard about how their lab was created, the work it carries out and the biggest challenges it has faced so far. 

Please introduce yourself

Hey! We are Emily and Eleanor Pittard (we’re married, not sisters – common misconception) and we are the owners of The Hive Dental Laboratory in Bournemouth.

Emily is a qualified clinical dental technician (and qualified dental technician and dental nurse). Eleanor has degrees in management and marketing and has been managing private dental practices for a number of years.

Can you please tell us a little about how and when your lab was created?

We have only been around for a few years as The Hive. Before this we were working in private implant dental practices, Eleanor as the manager and Emily as the technician and in her extended scope of practice.

We knew we wanted to do something different in the lab industry – make it more patient focused and more like an arm of the dental practices we work with.

We named it ‘The Hive’ because Eleanor is originally from Manchester and seeing as the emblem for Manchester is a worker bee, it was very fitting for a hard-working team. As well as this, we strive to be as eco-friendly as possible, from not only ecological business decisions but to owning multiple beehives!

How has the business grown since then?

We moved into our premises on Richmond Hill at the beginning. Although it was a big jump in size to what we were used to, we still managed to fill the space and it definitely gives the right feel to our new denture clinic. It also allows us to continue the journey a patient is used to at private clinics when they come for shade matches.

We have grown in the last few years to have a dedicated receptionist, dental nurse, driver, new technicians and process workers. But opening during Covid-19 and the subsequent economic constraints have added a few challenges along the way!

What renovations/additions/changes have you made to your lab and why?

The lab has had some major renovations, including becoming more digitally focused and adding 3D printers to our workflow. This past year we have transformed our spare room into a beautiful bespoke clinical environment for Emily to see denture patients.

We have also started using the Elab system to take more accurate shades.

In 2021, we opened one of the first mobile laboratories, our ‘Lab-mobile’, which allows us to do immediate loads, denture repairs and refurbishments all from the comfort of our fully equipped lab van. We saw a gap in the market for this during the first Covid-19 lockdown as patients were unable to get their dentures repaired.

Also, trying to construct an immediate load on the edge of a workspace in a decontamination room within a dental clinic where you are constantly in the way of the poor nurses is never that easy!

What type of work does your laboratory carry out?

We are exclusively private, although we do work for the charity Den-Tech and, through them, Dentaid.

Our work is evenly split between prosthetic, crown and bridge, aligner, and implant work, but we specialise in complex restorative implant work.

Frankly, we love everything technical and will turn our hands to anything!

What kind of high-tech equipment/technology do you use at the lab?

We have 3shape implant software, 3D printers, Ivoclar furnaces and a Scheu ministar. We also have an entire modern clinic with a fully functioning decontamination room with a Coltene Scican Statim 6000B autoclave and Belmont chair suite.

As well as this, we are soon to be getting a new X-ray machine too!

What have been the biggest challenges in establishing and running the business?

There have been a number of challenges. Covid-19 didn’t exactly help, and Brexit also meant the loss of easy distribution channels and quality technicians who could no longer work in the UK. This has resulted in materials taking longer to arrive and there are now fewer technicians to go round!

Not to mention the postal strikes – soul destroying.

The lab industry is in a period of rapid change right now where the old techniques are either being lost by technicians retiring or are now outdated due to new technologies. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate allowing some dental practices to mill teeth onsite and cut out the middleman.

It also means that some equipment becomes almost obsolete before you get good use out of it because the next generation is on the market. So keeping up with everything is both exciting and exhausting!

Our industry is also still rather male-led with a bit of an old boy’s club still in existence. So as a young female and LGBT-owned dental laboratory, we do come up against a few ingrained prejudices still and find ourselves having to prove people wrong rather than the assumption being that we are actually good at what we do.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety – no two days are the same, which means you are constantly learning and evolving. Emily especially loves the patients, the fact that you can change a person’s life with their smile is incredible job satisfaction.

We have lab days out with the team which are always a great laugh, getting to play crazy golf, an escape room or just a lunch out helps boost morale and we love seeing the team happy.

What are the future aims of your lab?

We have some exciting courses coming up for our team to grow their knowledge. In addition, we want to build our denture clinic and move into digital dentures next; we’ve already started working with them a little but want to continue to grow in this area.

We also have some other plans up our sleeve, but all will be revealed – keep your eyes peeled on our Instagram page.

Where do you see dental technology going in the next decade or so?

Digital and into the dental clinic.

With the onslaught of companies providing dental practices with easy solutions to creating their own lab work, I don’t think it’ll be long before most private dental practices will not only have an implant dentist onsite, but will also want the ease of popping into a room next door to discuss their lab work with a technician.

The fact that you can mill and print onsite –  and there are more and more of these machines coming onto the market for dental practices – suggests that technicians will need to be onsite to stay relevant.

The evolution of digital dentistry means faster turnarounds will be expected and there will be a mass shift from ‘hand-made’ to ‘machine-made’ work.

It’s all exciting, but it’s a lot to keep up with when you’re a small start-up company!

What are your top tips for maintaining a successful laboratory?

Communication is key. Remembering that every case is a real person who is probably nervous or embarrassed about needing dental work and pre-empting any potential snagging areas.

This does put a burden on the admin team because they need to be really hot on messaging over multiple channels and identifying if a new impression is needed or photos required, or postage is delayed for example. Far better to pre-warn and predict than to message after the fact.

Troubleshoot as a team and invest in problem solvers, not problem finders. There’s no point in finding a problem and doing nothing about it, nor is it helpful to tell everyone what you think the solution is without getting their feedback on whether that solution really is helpful.

If you just ask your team, you’ll usually find they have the answers. And if it’s their solution, then they are much more likely to enact it.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that we hope all dental practices spare a little thought for dental technicians and the dental lab industry right now and understand the difficulties we all face with the ongoing postal strikes, rising costs and declining work force and so give a little leniency to their lab of choice.

Also, thank you for asking us to be your lab in the limelight!

Previous labs in the limelight:

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