Inside Dental Technology
An Interview with Rita Acquafredda
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): What is the single biggest challenge facing the laboratory industry today?
Rita Acquafredda (RA): As the industry continues to move ever closer to automated manufacturing processes, the primary challenge we hear from our customers is their ability to transition their laboratory from manual fabrication processes to automated systems. When we meet with our customers one-on-one, their major concern is how do they integrate technology successfully without disrupting their current production flow processes? How do they successfully transition their customers from handcrafted products and materials to products and materials optimized by automated production? And an even larger concern is once a laboratory is transitioned, how can it then differentiate itself from competitors in the same space? We believe it is incumbent upon us to help laboratories find solutions that will help them through these challenges and beyond.
IDT: What do you see as a major obstacle for laboratories making the transition?
RA: Laboratories are no longer merely manufacturing facilities—they now also must be a marketing company that partners with their clients to help them find solutions to the challenges they face in the operatory. The dental community needs the laboratory profession more than ever. For example, if you look at the educational gaps in our dental schools, most dental graduates do not understand the technical processes and requirements for the manufacture of a laboratory-produced removable prosthetic. Today’s laboratory technicians find themselves in a unique position to work hand-in-hand with their clients as educators and advisors to provide quality dental care for the patient. As a company serving both the clinical and technical sides of the profession, it is our job to help educate dentists on the important role that technicians play in helping to provide quality dental treatment and to help market new materials and concepts coming from the laboratory. As a Henry Schein company, our core strength is our ability to educate and creatively market to both professions. We strive to help raise the bar on the dental technology industry to help both sides view the industry as professionals and equals.
IDT: What steps are you taking to encourage this collaborative type of environment for your customers?
RA: One thing that we are doing is modifying our marketing approach for launching new products. We are bringing innovative solutions to the market that will benefit both the laboratory and dental industries. Recently, we have introduced Zirlux and Hilla—two products that bring consistent, esthetic results that dentists and their patients desire. We are co-branding these laboratory products by promoting them to the dental community while increasing awareness and generating leads for our laboratories. Laboratories that sign up for these programs will meet with our dental regional managers to work collaboratively on education to train the dentist to be a more effective partner with the laboratory, helping to grow both their businesses. The benefits of being a member of our large collaborative Henry Schein network are further enhanced by Zahn Dental’s ability to maintain and build strong personal relationships with the laboratory owners we serve.
IDT: How do you see the relationship between the dentist and laboratory shifting and changing in the future?
RA: We believe the dental laboratory industry will evolve to become an important educational and training resource and a sales and marketing arm to the dentist, as well as being their production center. In the end, this is an industry built on relationships, and there is a tremendous amount of trust that is built into the laboratory/dentist relationship. It is this trust that is sustaining and should be further developed by laboratories going forward. As a company serving both markets, we want to be a part of that evolution for our customers by providing them with end-to-end solutions to help them prosper and thrive.
IDT: You are a member of the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) Board of Directors and Zahn Dental is a fundraiser for the non-for-profit organization, The Foundation for Dental Laboratory Technology. Please explain for our readers how corporate social responsibility plays an important role in supporting the dental technology industry.
RA: Before I became an NADL Board Member, I really did not understand the power of the association and the leadership it provides to help elevate the industry. An important example is The Foundation for Dental Laboratory Technology, which is committed to raising the awareness and importance of dental laboratory technology education for technologists and the dental team. The Foundation is such a wonderful way to give back to the industry and help to build and sustain the profession. We, as a company, and our supplier partners, are committed financially to supporting The Foundation through our “Build Our Future” program, which donates a portion of sales proceeds to The Foundation. We also have developed internal teams at Zahn to work closely with The Foundation to put together educational programs. We have been able to raise nearly $80,000 in revenue through our in-dividualized customer calendar program and work closely with many of the schools to donate equipment and supplies to help educate our next generation of technicians. I think that it is vitally important for us to give back to the markets we serve.
Rita Acquafredda is the vice president and general manager of Zahn Dental.