‘Dentistry needs lab technicians more than ever’

Lucy Veal talks to Christian Coachman about the importance of embracing digital dentistry and the bright future for lab technicians.‘This is a disruptive moment, but it’s disruption for the best’: Lucy Veal talks to Christian Coachman about the importance of embracing digital dentistry, the bright future for dental laboratories and how lab technicians can get the most out of their job.

How important is digital dentistry?

The discussion of the importance of digital dentistry is something that has been very present over the last decade. But at this point in time, I don’t think it’s even a discussion anymore. It’s just the obvious reality. The obvious way to go.

It should become the normal way of doing things. It’s not a matter of comparing the other way with the new way anymore, but just understanding that digital dentistry is allowing us to do every single step of the process of treating patients better.

So it’s just mandatory.

And what would you say to anyone who’s reluctant to start using digital dentistry?

It’s not only about understanding the importance of using digital dentistry, but the the danger of not using it. It’s the fact that more and more patients are experiencing the advantages of digital. I don’t know a single patient who went to a doctor that uses digital and afterwards said they wanted to go back to a doctor that doesn’t.

I think that, historically in any industry, we see these waves of new trends and it’s a matter of the professional asking themselves if they want to be behind the wave, or if you want to take advantage of the wave.

Every new technology, every new solution generates a beautiful opportunity at the beginning – the first-mover advantage. If you wait until all these new amazing things to become normal, you’re going to miss that wave.

So you have to pick your battles and you have to choose a few things that may make you different in the eyes of the consumer.

Dentistry will only become more competitive in the next decade. Corporate dentistry, DSO’s, chains of clinics will invade dentistry even more rapidly. Ten years ago, 90% of practice owners were dentists. I believe that 10 years from now, 90% of practice owners will be corporations and business people.

So the dentist needs to to ask themselves where they want to be in the future and the future will require us to make those moves. It’s either you become very good at these modern constants, you work with somebody that is very good, or you end up working for somebody that operates that.

Every business person that is buying clinics, owning clinics, chains of clinics, they are investing in digital dentistry. So if smart business people are opening clinics with digital dentistry, dentists should understand that there’s no way back.

And what about in labs? Would you say it’s just as as important for laboratories and technicians to start using digital dentistry as well?

Actually this is a key point. Throughout my whole career, I’ve worked more as a technician than as a dentist, so I consider myself as more a dental technician than a dentist. And I own a big digital lab company.

There’s no modern dentistry without digital lab, let’s put it that way. Period. Absolutely no chance. There’s no way a dentist can perform modern dentistry without parking up with a digital lab. Not even a chance.

So this digital dentistry trend is making labs even more relevant, more important. And it’s funny because many labs, many technicians feel that digital is a threat. And this is completely wrong.

Digital is making labs 100 times more important because it’s impossible for dentists to acquire all the software, technologies and equipment. Only with volume can you have the best technology available. Only labs can do that, because if a dentist is doing 10 veneer cases a month, a lab serving 100 doctors or 50 doctors is doing 1000 cases a month.

So only through that volume can you have the best technology.  So it’s an amazing opportunity for labs. The labs that are waking up for that opportunity and filling that gap and playing that role and much more than just manufacturing restorations are becoming a digital hub for the doctors.

They’re becoming a digital planning centre, a digital diagnostic centre, a digital report centre, a digital content generation centre. All these roles, in my vision, need to be performed by labs and that’s what we are doing with our lab. And we can see that that’s the way to go.

You’ve mentioned before that dental technicians will take over the industry. What did you mean by that?

Basically, you have basically three moments of treating a patient. Firstly, you need to understand the problem. Then you need to plan the solution, and then you need to execute the plan – so diagnosis, treatment planning and clinical execution.

People focus on the clinical execution – everybody talks about how to do things. But the key for excellence is on the diagnosis and planning. If you use the metaphor of building a house, the architect and the engineer are more important than the builders. Clinicians are builders. They follow the plan.

So, smart organisations will focus at the beginning, centralising the processes of diagnosis and planning. One lab can become a centre of diagnosis and planning for many doctors and many clinics. And you need high-end technology like hospitals, you know. In hospitals, you have all the rooms, with many doctors working inside them. But you also have one diagnostic centre, one imaging centre, one planning centre – with key people.

The smart people in the hospital are there analysing the data, analysing the information and generating plans, generating reports. It’s one place for the whole hospital – you don’t have lots of these places for each room.

So in dentistry, because historically every dentist works alone inside four walls by themselves, this is the disruption that digital is doing. It’s connecting intelligence, connecting people all over the world and allowing dentists to connect to these modern labs that are becoming the centre for decision making. High quality decision making is the key.

The labs will be the key to making this happen.

How can dental technicians get the best out of their job?

So lab owners – with a business, entrepreneurial, technological mindset – need to understand that it’s not only about helping dentists at the end of the journey.

Labs usually wait until the dentist does everything. The dentist sends the case to the lab and asks for the final alteration, but the whole treatment has already been done. Treatment planning has already been done. Agnostics has already been done.

So the lab needs to move from the end and start to play this role at the beginning. And to play this role at the beginning labs need to learn two new things.

Firstly, they need to learn what it means to be an interdisciplinary planning centre, so they need to hire treatment planners. Labs need to hire dentists and learn treatment planning. This is going to become a new job in dentistry – treatment planners, clinicians with experience who might decide that they don’t want to do the clinical work anymore or part time. Labs will need to hire them because they need to understand about orthodontics, perio, pros, treatment planning in general.

Secondly, labs need to understand about software to treatment plan. So what technologies are available to help us simulate plans and make better decisions when it comes to treatment planning?

So these are the two new skill sets that labs need to acquire to move together to get this upgrade from just being a lab, to becoming this modern digital planning centre.

What do dental technicians need to do to attract the best talent?

I think this is the basics of any successful company, right? You need to have inspiring leadership. You need to share your vision with people. You need to be able to make your vision become other people’s vision. When you when you meet high quality people, you need to be able to talk about your project and make good people want to be part of it.

And that’s not only in labs, that’s in any project in life. Having the right people is many times more important than having the right idea or having the right project. You’re stuck with the people. So connecting to the right people, inspiring the right people, onboarding the right people means being a great leader.

It also means that you show people that you’re there to share. And when things go right, everybody’s gonna win.

So the old way of owning businesses and running businesses need to give space for the new. That means sharing and growing together. Making people transform your vision into their vision, meaning that little by little, they feel like they own it and they want to transform your project into their life project. That’s the only way to attract great people.

Is there anything else you want to add?

To my dear lab colleagues, just enjoy the opportunity. Embrace this new role. Think bold, go beyond the regular lab role that we had historically.

This is a disruptive moment, but it’s disruption for the best. There is no better moment in dental history to be a lab than today.

Dentistry needs us lab technicians more than ever. And the only way to make digital benefit more patients, because that’s the end goal, is through more labs and understanding how to allow dentists to benefit from technology.

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