What is it you should look for in a dental lab? When contemplating this, you probably have a shortlist of the essential qualities you’d desire: fast turnaround times, reasonable prices, and reliable quality being among the top three.
These characteristics would seem to be the standards that suppliers deem most important to you as well, judging by what most laboratories choose to promote on their websites.
These are also criteria that can be met from anywhere in the world – hence the rise of outsourcing in recent years. There are arguments both for and against the overseas outsourcing of dental lab work. It’s been suggested that it could be disadvantageous to local industry, and that the quality of work or materials used are less reliable when placing orders from halfway around the world.
On the other hand, how are dental practices in the UK supposed to sustain profitable growth in the current economic climate without turning to cost-cutting methods such as delegating to less expensive overseas suppliers?
The big issue
As important and divisive as these arguments may be, they step over the real issue, which is the significance of the relationship between dental practice and laboratory. The responsibility for providing the best results falls on both the dentist and the technician, and so the relationship between practice and laboratory should reflect this. It is worth remembering that successful dentistry relies on a dental lab being full practice partners to those requiring its services, and not just a wholesaler selling a product.
Of course, some simple restoration work can be sent off and completed without the need for anything other than a lab ticket, but there will always be more complex scenarios that will require a secondary perspective or professional discussion between practice and lab. Not to mention the possibility of mistakenly omitting a seemingly insignificant yet crucial piece of information only for the overseas lab you outsourced to not be able to reach you to verify the details.
Naturally, there are many dental labs outside the UK that are able to provide an efficient, personal service. However, it can be that if you choose to delegate your dental lab requirements overseas, communication can be limited solely to lab tickets and emails. This lack of quality communication can potentially lead to issues further along the line.
Returning to the shortlist, perhaps what practices should be looking out for from their dental lab is a way of enhancing their working relationships. This may include a technical manager with whom you can discuss ideas; a technician who understands you when it comes to ideal treatment results; and the feeling that you’re not performing the restoration on your own, that you have a shared responsibility for each patient. But this, of course, is the ideal, and may not be entirely possible when you take economic factors into consideration.
By choosing your lab based on the monetary advantages of outsourcing overseas over the enhanced practice-lab relationship, you face the possibility of losing out in the long run. Although it may be simple enough to send off your order and get the products back at a cheaper price, what happens when you receive a less than perfect product from a supplier whose communication with you may have been somewhat sparse?
Any financial gain from choosing a cheaper supplier would have been diminished by the added chair time required to properly fit an imperfect crown or bridge. This loss can be even greater when a restoration doesn’t fit at all and must therefore be sent back. When this happens you lose your patient’s trust as well as wasting your own time. To the patient, you, the dentist, have made the mistake – they don’t know that the lab you chose to work with is responsible for the unwanted outcome.
Value for money
The value of clear communication and a strong relationship between practice and lab cannot be under estimated. Fortunately, there are dental labs in the UK that provide expertise, personal service and unparalleled quality for economical prices. Sparkle Dental Labs is one such example.
Finding a lab you’re happy to work with is a delicate balance of economics and benefits. Dental laboratories are responsible for far too much of the treatment to be regarded as mere vendors to your practice, but at the same time you need to find a lab whose prices you can realistically afford over a longer period of time. Your shopping list of expectations need not be an unattainable ideal; with the right supplier, your perfect practice-lab relationship can become a reality.
Maddy Managooli is technical manager at Sparkle Dental Labs. Maddy qualified as a dentist in 1999 from the Sharavathi Dental College and Hospital in India. After lecturing in restorative dentistry at a dental institute in Baroda, he took a job as an associate dentist at a leading dental clinic in Mumbai. Working closely with highly skilled technicians at the clinics’ dental laboratory, Maddy developed his skills and passion for dental technology. Upon moving to the UK in 2007, he undertook a course in dental technology in Edinburgh. Visit www.sparkledentallabs.com for more information.