Dentists: Do You Trust Your Dental Lab?

The Hidden Costs of a $40 Dental Crown

The relationship between dentists and their dental labs is a close one – but is it close enough?

The other shoe has dropped. The lead scandal, a story that The Wealthy Dentist has been covering for the last two months, has now gone national. ABC’s Good Morning America ran a segment about this potential crisis on May 8th. Doctor, you better have your story straight when you patients start asking you where your lab work in being done.

Dental labs have been in the spotlight due to the recent scare over lead apparently finding its way into dental restorations such as crowns and bridges. Dentists are realizing that they are ethically (and possibly legally) responsible for the quality of their dental lab’s work.

How much do you really know about dental labs?

The following information was provided by the National Association of Dental Labs (NADL). All numbers apply to the US.

  • $80 billion: Annual revenue generated by dentistry
  • $7 billion: Annual dental lab sales
  • 12,000: Total number of dental laboratories
  • 5,000: Number of those that are single-technician labs
  • 48,000: Number of full and part-time dental technicians
  • 11,000: Number of dental technicians predicted to leave the profession by 2014
  • 68%: Percent of surveyed NADL labs outsourcing at least some work to domestic labs
  • 5%: Percent of surveyed labs outsourcing overseas

There are a number of holes in the current system. Allow me to point out just a few…

Start at the beginning

Once upon a time, would-be dentists studied alongside would-be dental technicians. The two professions are inextricably connected, and each would do well to understand the needs of the other. How better to foster this relationship than by educating students together?

Today, however, that is certainly not the case. At most schools, dental students and lab students have little to no exposure to each other. The communication gap that begins in school tends to continue into the working world.

“Most dentists don’t meet a technician until after they graduate and that’s criminal. The pre-clinical students and dental laboratory technology students are able to learn from each other, which helps them hone the skills they have and build new ones.”
– Bob Schneider, DDS, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Professor (Journal of Dental Technology, June/July 2006)

Bridge the communication gap

One of the biggest complaints dental lab technicians have about dentists is that they often don’t give the lab all the information they’re supposed to. A proper prescription for a dental prosthesis includes detailed information about the materials to be used in its construction. When the dentist doesn’t provide all the details, it’s up to the technician to make these important decisions.

“Most dentists rely on the dental technician to choose the materials needed for the fabrication of the prosthesis. With lack of adequate information, all too often the design, fabrication, and completion of the case is left up to the technician. Therefore, our results indicate an apparent trend to which technicians are left to make crucial decisions for dentists.”
– Z. Afsharzand, DMD et al. (from the Journal of Prosthodontics, Vol 15. No 2 March-April 2006 pgs 123-28)

Know your partners

One dentist will have been working with the mom-and-pop dental lab down the street for thirty years. Another will use a major domestic lab after personally visiting the premises. Another will prefer the US-based chain with the lowest prices. Another will go online to find a Chinese lab that offers crowns for $39.95.

The dentist’s relationship with his or her lab isn’t something the patient can see. It’s not even something most patients would think to ask about. But even if it’s invisible to the patient, it’s likely to be the factor that best predicts the quality of the dental work they receive.

Patients deserve disclosure

In the US, dentists are not required to tell patients if their dental prosthetic was manufactured outside of the country. In fact, dental labs are not always required to tell dentists where the device was manufactured. (And since many US labs use partners overseas, a domestic return address is no guarantee.)

However, expect the laws to start changing soon. A number of states are already considering legislation mandating that labs inform dentists and/or dentists inform patients of work fabricated outside of the country. In Canada, for example, patients must sign an informed consent form before receiving any foreign dental work.

Keep on working

It may be as long as year before the ADA announces the results of their testing. Perhaps it’s a big fuss over nothing; perhaps we’re all slowly dying of lead poisoning. I can’t predict what the science will say. But I can definitely predict this: you, the dentist, are going to be held responsible for your dental lab work. Here’s hoping you can be proud to stand by your restorations.

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About Jim Du Molin

+Jim Du Molin is a leading Internet marketing expert for dentists in North America. He has helped hundreds of doctors make more money in their practices using his proven Internet marketing techniques.

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