You have invested heavily in some of the latest dental technology: digital x-ray imaging, fiber optic and laser drills, and CAD/CAM, to name just a few. You have racked up thousands of Frequent Flier miles and tens-of-thousands of dollars in continuing education to stay on top of the latest advances and procedures in dentistry. With all you have invested in time, money…and your reputation, will you now see it all swirl down the toilet shopping for a new dental lab? Before you hand off your lab work to a new supplier, you may want to invest four minutes reading the rest of this article.
Where to begin?
The owner of the lab you are currently using is looking to sell his business and retire. He has served you well for many years but now you find yourself looking for a new supplier. You have the names of a few labs he has recommended but you are not quite sure how to proceed. Where do you begin?
The first step you may want to take is to first ask yourself where you see your practice in the next five years. Many dentists maintain relationships with their dental labs that endure for many years. Once they find a good lab dentists usually like to hold on to them. In some ways this is a good thing and at the same time it can be a handicap. How so? Dentists often don’t like venturing outside of their comfort zone and will build their practice around the services their labs can provide them. This can cause your practice to stagnate, especially if your current vendor is not staying on top of the latest advances in dental restorations and lab technology. So, before walking down the aisle with a new lab, you may want to speak to the owner in question to get his or her view about future trends in dentistry and how they plan to keep in step. After all, why saddle yourself to a dental lab that can’t provide you with the latest products and services you need to help grow your practice.
There are no special state licensing requirements to operate a dental lab. The only governmental entity that monitors dental labs is OSHA and their primary mandate is employee safety…not your patients’. How can you be sure that the dental lab you choose is reputable and has significant mastery of the knowledge and applied skills needed in dental technology? One way is to check if the owner or lab staff are Certified Dental Technicians (CDT) or if the lab is a CDL (Certified Dental Laboratory). Because of the expense and time commitment required to become certified, some labs don’t bother to become certified, especially since it’s not a requirement. And because continuing education is a yearly requirement for renewal, you can be certain that CDTs and CDLs are making a real effort to keep abreast of the latest practices and technology in their field.
Sending your prescriptions to a local lab is no guarantee that the work is being done on premises. “We sincerely believe that when selecting a new laboratory, a dentist must be certain that the laboratory actually exists and is doing the work on the cases that they send.” recommends Mark Marinbach, CDT, president of Nu-Life Long Island, a Certified Dental Laboratory, located in West Hempstead New York. “Outsourcing, both locally and internationally, has become a serious problem for the dental profession. There are no laws that a laboratory must disclose to the dentist if they actually do the work or if they are farming it out to another vendor. The work that you send to a local laboratory might actually be done in someone else’s basement in China, India, or some other foreign country, by poorly trained people that earn pennies an hour. Overnight delivery services such as Federal Express, DHL, and others, have made this logistically possible. We think that this practice is deceitful and unfair to you and your patients.”
Let’s face it, this is the 21st century and if the dental lab you are looking at doesn’t have email and a website, there’s a good chance that they may not be around much longer. If you’re operating a high-tech practice, the last thing you need is a dental lab that’s coming out of the dark ages. Lab skills aside for a moment, you need a lab that offers a full range of high-tech capabilities, including CAD/CAM, digital shade matching, broadband internet access and email, to name just a few. This can be of critical importance if you need to contact a lab after hours about a case they are working on and you want to email them so last-minute details before boarding a 14-hour flight. You never know.
The last thing you want hear when you call up to check on the status of your job is, “Call back in one hour.” Computer-aided job tracking or a centralized, fail-safe method of order status tracking is a must for any dental lab that is serious about staying in business. If the lab you are looking at can’t provide you with an up-to-date report on the status of your jobs without putting you on “hold” for 20 minutes, then you need to be looking somewhere else.
The Bottom Line
Like it or not, your practice is run by dental labs. Having said that, it is vitally important that you take great care in selecting and evaluating any new lab you may be eyeing. Ask for referrals and talk to other dentists who may be using their services. The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable and confident each time you send your lab work out that the only surprise you get is the look of total satisfaction on your patient’s face when you hand them the mirror.