5 things to look for in a dental lab

2016 07 12 13 51 18 851 Watts Jason 200

One thing I always have to know is where the products I am supplying to my patients are coming from. When you have the confidence to know you are delivering the best product, from a state-of-the-art lab, 100% produced in the U.S. with the most advanced technology in the market, it is a good feeling.

Jason Watts, DMD. Image courtesy of MedPro Dental.Jason Watts, DMD. Image courtesy of MedPro Dental.

I recently spent the day in the lab I use in Huntsville, AL. I wanted to see the facilities my work was being sent to, so I can sleep better knowing I am not only talking the talk but also walking the walk when it comes to the quality of my work.

I spent more than seven hours in the lab talking to the head of each department and touring the gigantic facility. I was so impressed with the cleanliness -- I could have eaten off the floor.

I saw 3D printers, digital scanners taking up the whole floor, milling units big enough to mass produce crowns, generators large enough to run a small city, computer drives that back up to more computer drives that back up to more computer drives, and dozens upon dozens of people customizing, checking, and rechecking each unit that enters and leaves the lab.

I visited the lab because I found I was asked a lot of questions by my patients about the work I was doing. Questions such as the following:

  • How is this process done?
  • Why does this cost so much?
  • Will you be able to tell it is not my tooth?
  • Will harmful materials be in my tooth?

I have always promised to be honest and ethical with my patients every day -- no exceptions.

“I would never deliver something to my patients that I would not put in my own mouth.”

It is very comforting when discussing treatment with patients that I can confidently say their "personal tooth" is being customized in a state-of-the-art lab in the U.S. Knowing you are doing the best work, cutting no corners, and delivering a product you can stand by helps make you an ethical dentist.

I highly suggest visiting your lab to make sure you know where your work is coming from. It is not enough to use a lab because another dentist does or just because they are the cheapest. I would never deliver something to my patients that I would not put in my own mouth.

5 things to look for in a dental lab

So, what should you look for when searching for a lab?

1. Where are they making their products?

A lot of labs will ship overseas to the Philippines or China. They claim to "check" materials as they arrive, but you cannot check the materials once the unit is made. You need to know beforehand that it is up to our code of health and standards of care.

2. How timely is the return product?

The faster you can deliver the product, the fewer emergency calls you will have on Saturday nights while out to dinner stating your patient is in severe pain. I suggest up to 10 business days is more than plenty. If it is longer than that, your lab is most likely shipping overseas.

3. What does your lab specialize in?

Some labs are better at fixed versus removable, some are more costly for aesthetic cases, some specialize in full-mouth cases only, and so on. I personally like the "one-stop-shop" approach. I have used multiple labs, but I have found one that is good with everything.

4. What personal connection will your lab provide?

You will make your lab a lot of money over the years. It is important to build rapport with your lab technicians and know who is making your work. If you have a dozen different people doing your work, you will notice poor consistency with all your deliveries. If you work with one lab most the time, it will build a file of your likes and dislikes, and most likely assign you your own lab technician for consistency. Trust me, this makes a huge difference.

5. How long does it take you to deliver each unit?

Delivery appointments should be quick, accurate, and effortless. A crown delivery should take five to 10 minutes with minimal adjustment. That beautiful snap from the floss in between each contact should be present, and occlusion should be accurate. If you are taking 30 to 45 minutes for deliveries, you need to analyze why, how often, and what is going on. That is a lot of chair time with no pay.

I like to stand behind my work, and to do that I need to make sure my team is standing behind me. This team is my office staff and also my lab. I was hung out to dry once from a lab that delivered a poor-fitting anterior crown twice in a row. The lab wouldn't rush my work because it was being sent overseas and I had no idea. My patient went to his only son's wedding with a temporary. Who looked bad? Me. Who had to apologize endlessly to keep my patient at my practice? Me. Who promised this would never happen again to any of my patients? Me!

Know your lab, and know who is doing your work. Being able to stand by your work from start to finish will make you a more confident dentist, give you the ability to do more complex and more aesthetic cases, and also build trust with your patients. In the end, this will deliver referrals and grow your practice.

Jason Watts, DMD, is a new-to-practice dentist and a member of MedPro Group's Dental Specialty Advisory Board. This column first appeared on the blog of MedPro Dental, The Wisdom Tooth. DrBicuspid.com appreciates the opportunity to reprint in its entirety.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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