Inside Dental Technology
An Interview with Stuart Steinbock
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): What are the current challenges impacting the dental technology industry?
Stuart Steinbock (SS): As we are all aware, there is currently a shift from a traditional workflow and product mix to a digital workflow. Add to that the growing shift to an all-ceramic product mix, and these changes create challenges for many laboratory owners because they change where and how they can make money.
Post-recession, we have seen the number of dental laboratories plummet from nearly 14,000 to now around 9,000 businesses. Part of the attrition is due to the aging of the industry and the lack of talented young technicians entering the profession. In the past, a technician could break away from the parent company and open a laboratory business for the modest cost of $5,000 to $8,000, buying a good mixer, a model trimmer, and a porcelain oven. Today, new laboratory owners must consider purchasing a scanner, which alone can cost around $25,000, in addition to purchasing all of the other items mentioned before.
In many ways, CAD/CAM is helping large laboratory and corporate laboratory groups because they can better absorb the costs of technology and use it to improve the standardization of restorations and drive labor costs down. These same advantages also exist for the small laboratories. Gone are the days when laboratory owners could earn a really nice living based on the talents of their hands and working strictly for and by themselves. This does not mean that the smaller laboratory is no longer relevant, but rather that the skills required to convert and keep customers have shifted. They must also have an advanced understanding of dental technology and embrace a team approach to work, allowing their accounts to aid in the treatment planning process. On the production side, laboratory owners must understand how to exploit technology to create value for their accounts and how to implement continuous improvements in the manufacturing and processing of cases.
The final challenge facing our industry will be increased FDA activity. This will likely come in the form of increased laboratory inspections and possibly the issue of new guidance on the use of CAD/CAM technology and implant dentistry.
IDT: Where do you see the industry going?
SS: This is the most exciting time in the history of our industry. The changes that we are witnessing are leading us down a path that is barely recognizable to many technicians.
Intraoral scanning is becoming increasing popular, and will become the norm as the technology improves and the cost comes down.
The ability of these units to provide the mill or printer with the right software files will preclude the necessity of physical models.
Routine diagnostics will include cone beam information, digital radiography, micro and macro photography, and computerized shade mapping information, all available to the dentist simultaneously as part of every patient record.
Most restorations will be created using digital files and either additive (printing) or subtractive (milling) technologies.
Implants will become easier to place for the general practitioner and more affordable for the average patient.
Research in growing actual, biological teeth for tooth replacement will increase.
The above products, techniques, and technologies represent the way dentistry is practiced in the near future. What a great future dentistry has!
IDT: What role do you see Whip Mix playing in the future of the industry?
SS: Whip Mix will be an industry leader in both the digital and conventional product arenas. The company has spent almost 100 years devoting itself to the success of its customers—I don’t see that attitude changing.
The management of Whip Mix is totally committed to maintaining these high standards while adapting our direction, products, and services to meet the evolution of this industry head on. We will participate in laboratory/customer success on a level we never have before. For instance, we offer not only milling services for customers as they get started, but also a full line of materials, cutting tools, and milling machines for those who have built their volume to a level that affords insourcing.
It is our goal to, regardless of where your laboratory is in implementing technology into its workflow, have the resources necessary to help you improve operations.
IDT: What advice would you give to laboratories that are just now entering into the digital age?
SS: Don’t waste time! Start changing your laboratory from conventional to a digital format as soon as possible. Competitors all around you are doing it and their success and growth could very well impact yours—in a bad way. Unless you are 5 years or less away from retirement and have no one to keep the business going, you owe it to yourself to jump on the train and make your laboratory as competitive and profitable as possible. If you are not sure how to go about making the change, attend one of Whip Mix’s Survive or Thrive programs, where experts share their journeys in the digital world and show you what pitfalls to avoid and which paths to take, even for the smallest laboratory.
Stuart Steinbock is Vice President of Business Development at Whip Mix.