Predicting Future Fortunes
An undercurrent OF whispering, rippling among circles within the industry, is predicting the eventual demise of the traditional dental laboratory. There seems to be no consensus among the whisperers on exactly what factors will bring about the collapse or what the final structure of the industry will look like. Some project that its downfall will be the advancements being made in CAD software. The built-in intuitiveness in terms of ease of use, automated case proposals, and analytic tools that reduce manual operations will, they say, eliminate the need for formally trained, highly skilled dental technicians in the digital production process. That tomorrow’s sophisticated shade measurement tools will be able to replace the human eye in determining the critical nuances of shade, translucency, and surface characteristics present in the human tooth. That fast-paced advancements in automated technologies and new materials brought to market in the future will be too sophisticated, too expensive, and the developments too numerous for most in the industry to afford, adopt, and thus keep pace.
Some speculate the ongoing disappearance of the small dental laboratory witnessed over the past 7 years will continue until only those few at the upper echelons of skill and knowledge are left. However, even those remaining few will be snatched out of the dental technology mainstream and absorbed into the offices of specialists unwilling to settle for less, leaving in its wake the mid-size and large laboratories, which will be poised to handle the future volume demands the dental industry must be ready to meet. Others predict that the rise of corporate dentistry will forever change the landscape of the dental industry, and will effectively shut out all but the few laboratory industry stakeholders that are able to meet corporate volume pricing demands. Still others believe the downfall will be brought on by a surge in the adoption rate of chairside milling machines while a few others have their suspicions that manufacturers and their affiliates will move in to shore up and fill the projected void.
There is no doubt that factors from inside and out are putting pressure on the dental industry and have exacted their toll. Persistent economic pressures continue to keep consumers clenching their pocketbooks and away from the dental chair while the onus of dental insurance reimbursement rates and coverage shifts further away from the insurer and employer, and moves closer to the patient, who must bear more of the financial burden. All factors point to an industry on the cusp of restructuring to adapt for the future. However, regardless of any new structure that the future brings to dentistry, the need for skilled and knowledgeable dental technologists will always exist. The laboratories and technicians of the future just may need to be a very different breed than those of today.
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