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Can dental labs pave the way for digital dentistry in clinics?

Mark Smith

Solution Manager, CDT

3Shape Lab Product Management

Going digital is a big decision for both dental labs and dental clinics. Think time, cost, resources spent investigating, setting up the technology, running and training the staff. Historically, we’ve seen that labs tend to go digital first. Their network clinics follow suit when it makes sense to have more streamlined workflows.

How 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, which saw a decline in cases for dental labs as well.

Number of scans taken in relation to COVID

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.

Digitizing together: two scenarios

But the question of which technology and digital product is a big one and 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 1: 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 advisors to help the clinics. Some of the areas that the lab technicians can influence clinics are:

  1. Choosing the intraoral scanner - Obviously, there are a ton 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 and could therefore be an essential collaborator, both in operating the scanner and in the process of sending the scans to the lab, which is not always straightforward.
  2. Software for the key workflows - The software for IOS scanners is becoming more and more automated and there’s a lot to be gained 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 minimize chair time and remakes.
  3. Reduction of time-consuming tasks - The communication between a lab and a clinic can be time-consuming. It would therefore be 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 might also be a good time for the labs to assess the versions of software and lab scanners they have.

Scenario 2: 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:

  1. Choosing an open system that benefits both parties - Considerations should be made on a possible synergy between the lab and clinic systems, such as how compatible they are in the everyday workflows.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Integration options - In a clinic-lab collaboration, there can be many sub-suppliers and manufacturers involved. It is vital that these integrations work seamlessly and the option for potential future integration with other manufacturers should be top priority.

Advantages of the lab and the clinic being on the same system

  • Advantages for the lab - An upside can be shared scan file format. All the information the lab needs is included in the shared format, which 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 can be a time-consuming procedure.
  • Advantages for the clinic - Tracking and communication on digital orders can be instantly shared with the lab via the common platform along with the possibility to add notes and clinical photos to support the aesthetic work, which can be added via the supplementary app. The ability to access information at all times is a great advantage.

Make it easier: customize lab order forms

All-in-all it only makes sense for labs and clinics to work closely when either party are looking to switch to digital dentistry. If I could highlight one thing that labs should spend a little more time on, then it would be in tailoring their order forms towards the clinic in the digital workflow. Options are available for labs to customize the digital order forms on the clinic side so that the lab’s offerings are reflected more accurately, thereby making the need to modify incoming orders lesser.

Help save time on both sides

It is not an easy task but the time spent on it can be worth the while as many labs spend a significant time on adjusting incoming orders because the digital order form is inadequately filled out. Customizing can also be applied 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 positive impact on your daily work in the lab.

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About Mark Smith

Mark Smith

Solution Manager, CDT

3Shape Lab Product Management

Mark Smith is a Certified Dental Technician with more than 20 years experience working in the lab business. He’s been with 3Shape since 2014 as is currently a Solution Manager. In this role, he is highly involved in cross-product coordination, with an emphasis on understanding customer requirements, aligning roadmaps and communicating new solutions to the market.

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