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Lab Perspectives The Changing Face of Dental Technology

Jim Glidewell opened up about the changing face of dental technology at the Cal-LAB Group annual meeting in Chicago this year. Addressing a large crowd, Jim's message centered on three key elements: the future of dentistry, the importance of CAD/CAM, and upcoming opportunities that will enable your lab to continue to grow.

The Future of Dentistry
The future of dentistry is promising. As U.S. life expectancy continues its steady upward climb, the need for dental restorations—especially implants—will continue to grow.

"By 2014, dental prosthetics will be an $11 billion industry. Crown and bridge will still represent the majority of that volume, with PFM units being flat or on the decline, veneers growing by 50 percent, and other all-ceramic units—such as zirconia—continuing on a growth trend," Jim said, citing industry reports that track trends in dentistry.

The Importance of CAD/CAM
To keep up with increased demand, Jim anticipates that most crown and bridge labs will be fully CAD/CAM in the next five years. By employing computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided design in your facility, labs are better positioned against offshore outsourcing.

The recent advent of outsourcing to China is a genuine threat: "The economic threat of offshore outsourcing to U.S. laboratories is real, and CAD/CAM is the only way to beat it," believes Jim. "It lowers your labor costs and allows you not only to compete but also to win the battle."

Jim advises that laboratories of all sizes employ CAD/CAM, as this technology makes complex, labor-intensive services predictable, routine and profitable. Remember, all crowns made by machines are equal. Also advantageous is CAD/CAM's small margin for error and ability to maintain consistent product quality, time and time again.

Furthermore, CAD/CAM opens the door for labs to become a centralized manufacturing/milling center. As a centralized CAD/CAM milling center, labs obtain the ability to offer outsourcing to unequipped labs in addition to servicing their dentist clientele.

Jim urges labs to pursue this dual-course action rather than focusing on CAD/CAM solely: "At some point you'll just become a middleman and people can figure out how to do it without you."

As with any new technology, the skills of future technicians will be redefined with the implementation of CAD/CAM. The technician of tomorrow must fluently identify with the computer and be able to visualize in 3D. CAD/CAM technicians must have an eye for digital scan and design versus traditional wax-up, and rapid prototype manufacture versus casting and hand-layered ceramics.

CAD/CAM and Implants: A Winning Formula
Jim believes that CAD/CAM implants will help to propel the future of dentistry into new heights. Implant business is expected to experience a growth spurt, and Jim sees this trend already transpiring at Glidewell: from 2006 to 2007, the company witnessed a 12 percent growth in implants. Of that 12 percent, zirconia abutments accounted for 10 percent. By marrying implants with the consistency of CAD/CAM, implants restorations will become even more predictable and profitable.

The full impact of CAD/CAM on the implant industry has yet to be seen, but Jim advises labs to incorporate implant outsourcing into their services. By offering this service, labs of all sizes can open their doors to potential growth.

There are many new opportunities for your lab in this new age of dentistry. All you have to do is remain open-minded and optimistic.

Glidewell Laboratories has embraced new technology by enhancing our Web portal to communicate digitally with our doctors. (In case you are not familiar with this term, a Web portal is an interface that allows the doctor to upload files straight to your lab.) CEREC® Connect is another existing platform that has performed successfully.

"Online communication between doctors and labs grew 500 percent in 2007," Jim says. "I expect this trend to continue."

A Web portal is a great resource for saving time and money, as shipping costs are cut in half and the file upload takes place in seconds, not days. You will also get the added benefit of receiving a digital impression, taken using the CEREC®, Cadent iTero™ or LAVA™ C.O.S systems, which is virtually ready to be designed in CAD.

CAD/CAM has brought inevitable change to dental technology, and it's paving the way for future generations. Jim urges you to embrace CAD/CAM with an open mind, which will give you the tools needed to compete with an ever-growing dental market.

To properly defend your business, continue to grow your CAD/CAM business and consider the possibilities of becoming a centralized milling center. Another way to maintain a competitive edge is to get involved in dental implants, which will continue to grow as we live longer lives.

Right now is an exciting time for the dental lab industry. System choices are increasing, as witness to the amount of CAD/CAM featured at this year's Chicago Midwinter Show. CAD/CAM is more accessible than ever before, allowing labs of all sizes to supply the rampantly growing demand for precision restorations.

Published Fall 2008
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