Common and Uncommon Links
In early March, I flew to Britain to attend the Dentistry Show 2013. It was my first exhibition and dental industry conference in the UK, so I was very curious to learn how similar or dissimilar are the challenges faced by UK dental technology professionals from those “across the pond.” As I sat and listened to speakers presenting in the 300-seat Aesthetic Technician Conference theater, it struck me that many of the dynamics impacting the dental technology industry in the US mirror the challenges faced by the British dental technology industry. It also became readily apparent that British dental laboratory professionals have many more avenues to expand their role as dental care providers than do their US counterparts.
Just as in the US, the chasm between the digitally astute and non-astute is wide. The early adopters such as the Littlejohn brothers and their father, who own and operate the DTS laboratory in Glasgow, Scotland, a member of the Core 3D group of laboratories, and Ed Attenborough, managing director of Attenborough Dental located in Nottingham, Britain, have advanced their businesses to very sophisticated automated manufacturing facilities that export and supply products to a global—rather than strictly regional or national—dental community. I listened as Sandy Littlejohn, DTS, managing director, used his iPhone to speak his well-written overview of the global state of the industry and the transformation from analog to digital manufacture that is overtaking dental technology production processes. Meanwhile, Attenborough alluded to the incredible number of new innovations in digital impressioning systems seen at the IDS this year and predicted that with the drop in prices and slimming down in design, practitioners, already convinced that digital capture is superior to conventional methods, will readily transition in the next 5 years.
One of the big stumbling blocks for laboratories in Britain wanting to leap into digital production solutions has been the General Dental Council’s (GDC) lack of recognition of zirconia as a restorative material. So, for those patients and dentists belonging to Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), zirconia is not considered a viable restorative solution at this point in time. Currently, 80% of all restorations produced in Britain are precious metal–based. This has spurred a flurry of offshore competition with anywhere from 30% to 40% of all NHS prescribed restorations being produced in cheaper labor markets.
Unlike their US counterparts, dental technicians in Britain must have a formal education to own and operate a dental laboratory, must register as a dental technician with the GDC, and are recognized by the GDC as Dental Care Professionals. And, unlike dental technicians in the US, registered dental technicians have the opportunity to expand their dental team role through specialized and intensive clinical and technical education.
All in all, it was refreshing to see all members of the dental team come together in a single event to learn side by side in a rich educational environment, an event model IDT will be bringing to the industry in December 2013.