Thanks to the advent of digital technology, many laboratory owners and managers are discovering new business models and finding ways to reinvent their businesses and reinvigorate their careers. Here are the stories of three lab owners/managers who have done so using Sirona Dental, Inc.'s CEREC Acquistion Centers, Sirona Connect—a web-based portal through which CEREC dentists and inLab laboratories communicate—and the inLab system.
Smile Design, Inc.
Smile Design, Inc. in Elkhart, IN, is bringing digital technology to the dentist's office—literally. Owned by Chad Rogers, Richard Braddock and two silent partners, they've purchased two CEREC Omnicam intraoral scanners and outfitted cars with special trunks in which they can safely transport the units to area dental offices where they're offering same-day imaging and fabrication services of C&B restorations, partial denture frames, mouthguards and sleep apnea devices.
At the dental office, a Smile Design technician is on hand while the doctor takes the digital impression; the technician then designs the restoration and has the doctor approve it. Then, he uploads it to Professional Dental Laboratory Corp.—also in Elkhart and where Rogers is the Technical Director—where the restoration is milled with Sirona inLab, stained and glazed. A representative from the lab delivers the final restoration to the office; single crowns are returned within one hour. "We're helping our clients increase their profitability by absorbing all the capital investment so every doctor can be a CEREC doctor without spending a dime," says Rogers.
There is a three-unit, per-office, per-day minimum and the fee for a same-day, 10-unit veneer case, for example, is $3,500. Smile Design also offers to bring a milling unit to the dental office and mill onsite; there is an additional $350 per unit charge for this service.
While the partners have been working on developing this business concept for three years, Smile Design, Inc. was officially launched in May and business has been taking off. In July, they did 100 units for five clients and were on track for more growth in August. "We're still in the beta phase but, so far, business has exceeded our expectations. We're intentionally taking it slow so we maintain consistency, make sure we do it right and control our growth," he says.
Once the time is right, they plan to expand with more mobile units serving different geographic areas nationwide. They'll form partnerships with current inLab owners to create Smile Design-accredited laboratories; Smile Design will staff the mobile units and the partner laboratories will handle the milling, staining and glazing. Also on the horizon: applying the same concept to implants by purchasing Sirona Galileos CT Scanners and taking them on the road to help GPs treatment plan and place single-unit implants.
"We believe the future of dentistry is one-appointment crowns and bridges," says Rogers. "The biggest hindrance to growing digital dentistry is the cost to the dentist and the learning curve. Smile Design, Inc. strives to bridge that gap and change the way patients experience dentistry."
Bella Vita Dental Designs
"I probably wouldn't be in the lab business today had I not gotten involved in digital technology. I was bored and ready to quit the profession. Now, I'm reinvigorated; I feel like I've found a new career," says Bill Atkission, Owner, Bella Vita Dental Designs, Asheville, NC.
For 18 years, Atkission owned a laboratory in California; he rented space from a dentist and handled all of his work as well as that of other dentist-clients. In 2006, that dentist bought a CEREC system and Atkission purchased an inLab system so they could work in tandem, with the dentist taking digital impressions and Atkission designing and fabricating the restorations using inLab. That's when he started to realize the value and efficiency of digital technology and inLab.
Several years later, in 2011, he and his wife, both hikers, kayakers and nature lovers, moved to Asheville, NC, in search of a different quality of life. He found a similar situation—renting space from a dentist who has a CEREC system—and began cold calling to build his new laboratory and get additional accounts.
Today Bella Vita Dental Designs services about 25 clients, five of whom are local and the rest Atkission works with via Sirona Connect, a web-based portal through which CEREC dentists send work to inLab laboratories and the dental team can communicate. He also offers a design service whereby he receives a digital impression from the doctor; he digitally designs the case and sends it back to the office where it's milled, stained and glazed by the dental office staff, all while the patient waits in the chair. In addition, he offers same-day smile makeovers, Bella VitaSmile, where he goes to the dental office and fabricates the restorations, usually six to 10 units, using their CEREC system.
Using inLab, which he refers to as his "second employee," he's doubled his production—and his income—and is now fabricating 50 units per week, mostly anterior restorations and bridge work. "I'm dedicated to digital technology; it's the way to grow! Now, 99% of my work is done digitally whether I scan models and design or fabricate from Sirona Connect cases," says Atkission.
To further expand his business, Atkission is a moderator of a CEREC study club and often travels to area dental offices with a Sirona CEREC specialist to help them with sales calls and chairside troubleshooting. He's also using social media sites like Facebook and DentalTown.com to promote his services. "At first I was skeptical of the effectiveness of social media, but now I'm addicted to it. I constantly have the inLab study group open on Facebook. Both dentists and technicians participate in the group and it's helped me develop my reputation," says Atkission. "The key to working with CEREC dentists as partners is to educate them and share your wealth of knowledge."
After Barbara Rodriguez, CDT, sold her Jacksonville, FL, laboratory in 2010, she went to work as a technician in a U.S. Naval base dental clinic. That's where she started working with the CEREC chairside system and realized how valuable her technician background was in terms of helping dentists learn how to use the system.
"So many doctors make the initial investment, not realizing the amount of time that's required to educate themselves and their staff to use the system effectively and then the unit sits in the corner. More and more doctors want help with CEREC inside their offices because it can be a more cost-effective way of doing dentistry," says Rodriguez.
Seizing on a new niche—to work in dental offices helping dentists make the most of their CEREC chairside systems—she started Digital Aesthetics earlier this year. Her first clients are two high-end cosmetic dentists who want to integrate same-day dental work into their practice using the CEREC 3.8 and inLab systems.
She's teaching them how to use the CEREC system and software, achieve accurate shades and use the correct prepping technique. "Part of the learning curve is understanding that dentists have to change their prep design," she says. "Dentists are used to prepping for a PFM but digital restorations require a smoother, more rounded prep because the burs can't mill the sharp corners of a PFM prep."
The dental practice has an in-house laboratory in which Rodriguez designs restorations using inLab and handles all the staining and glazing. In the future, she'll train the dental assistants how to do these tasks, and she'll continue to handle the more complex cases.
The majority of their cases are posteriors although they are doing some anterior cases. "The single centrals can be a challenge and this is where the team really has to work together to provide the correct data. Also, to achieve accurate shades, the dentist must use the try-in paste provided with the bonding agent and the stump or prep shade, block shade selection and cement color must all be right on target," she says.
With some help from Patterson sales reps (who sell the CEREC systems), she's expanding her client base and is enthusiastic about the future of digital technology and Digital Aesthetics. "I've always liked change; it's exciting to me and I love the challenge of learning new things. It's only the beginning of digital technology and it will only get better and better."
How has the advent of digital technology helped your lab? Leave your comment below. Don't be shy—our readers would love to hear from you!