The dance between the dental practice and the dental laboratory has been choreographed for decades. However, technology is changing what that dance may look like — today and in the future.
While many practices have found a lab that meets their needs and quality requirements, there are also many practices that are considering what it would take for them to produce their own cases in-house rather than sending them outside the practice.
In this article, we will look at some of the questions that should be answered and strategies that should be incorporated if you are planning to launch your own in-office dental lab.
Know your why
Before deciding if an in-office lab is right for your business model, you must consider exactly why you are wanting to bring lab work in-house in the first place, as well as what the economic impact might be on your bottom line. For example, one dentist recently realized that his practice averaged roughly 10 to 15 full-arch cases each month. He also realized that he was often receiving fractured cases back from his lab, causing him to endure patient frustration and costing his team members valuable time trying to correct the issues. Knowing he could have complete control over the entire process proved well worth it for him and his team when it came to economics and peace of mind.
Another doctor considering a change to an in-house lab crunched the numbers and discovered that what he was paying to have occlusal guards printed off-site could be reduced significantly by bringing that process in-house. Knowing what he could save accelerated his deeper dive into the numbers and the return on investment he would receive — and helped him feel confident that an in-office lab was truly the right fit for him and his practice.
Important aspects of the in-office lab
Among the pieces of technology you may need to acquire to have an in-office lab that will meet your needs is working space for your lab, a computer with sufficient processing power, a computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) system, a 3D printer, a desktop and intraoral scanner and someone on your team who will serve as “your lab champion.” This person must not only have the skills to succeed in the lab, but also the enthusiasm for the position.
Also, having continuous training is important to keeping up with any changes to materials or technology. Working with your sales representative to find the right kind of initial and continuous training for your practice is an important step to put on your “must-do” list. This training should include both the clinical and lab team. While the learning curve can be steep at first, working with the technology manufacturer and/or dealer sales representative to locate in-person or virtual training opportunities can lessen the curve dramatically.
Working with your sales representative
Your sales representative can also be a tremendous resource when questions arise about your lab’s set-up.
Among the questions that have been asked of sales representatives by previous in-house lab owners include:
- Is it best for the lab to have an open or closed system (similar to an open system, a closed system generates an STL file. However, it can only be viewed or read by the specific closed software)?
- What kind of disc materials (such as zirconia and nanoceramics) will be needed to complete a case?
- Does the mill need direct air compression or a water line hookup, or does it require an independent water source?
- Does the 3D printer accept any kind of resins or will specific types be required?
- How much space will really be needed to have the in-house lab that is desired?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea of exactly what types of technology will be the right fit for your practice, as well as what the layout and space requirements of your in-house lab could be.
Talk to your financial adviser
With options such as Section 179 (which, according to the Internal Revenue Service, allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of certain property as an expense when the property is placed in service) and other tax-saving opportunities, it is important for dentists to know what effect bringing a dental lab in-house will have on the bottom line, as well as taxes. If you’re making this decision, it’s important to talk to your accountant or financial adviser to see exactly what you need to know on the financial side of the equation and if bringing a lab in-house is a wise move, both in terms of tax savings and financial implications.
Know how the change impacts the clinical and administrative sides of the business
Not only will launching an in-house dental lab impact the clinical aspect of the practice, but it will also change scheduling procedures as well. No longer will patients have to wait days between the initial impression and the return of the case. With an in-house lab, cases can often be checked and delivered in the same day and, in some cases, even during the same visit if a longer appointment is scheduled.
Ensuring the patient can stay close while the case is completed in-house (including a final check of shading) can be a convenience to offer your patients, some of whom may not live close to your practice.
Another key part of scheduling is making sure that your lab space is working in harmony with the patient flow in your practice. Knowing which days may be “heavy” for lab work versus days where the lab may not be needed as much will be an important part of the communication between the clinical and administrative teams.
Launching an in-office lab can provide dental practices greater control over their cases, as well as potential cost savings. However, to ensure success, dentists and team members must understand what technology is needed in the lab and how that technology will be used to impact their patient base. Additionally, finding the right person to oversee the in-house lab and making sure that proper communication happens between the clinical and administrative sides of the practice is critical to the lab’s continued success.
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