Innovation in digital dentistry is progressing rapidly. While advanced technology becomes more accessible to dental clinics and labs, intraoral scanners, 3D printers, and CAD/CAM software are transforming workflows across the industry. But when it comes to adopting digital solutions, the landscape is polarized. While some clinics and labs have implemented a fully digital workflow, others are hesitant to change and feel more comfortable continuing in the familiar analog workflow. Let us discuss how digital dentistry is transforming the partnership between clinics and labs.

Labs and clinics that go digital are steps ahead

The advantages of adopting a digital workflow include decreased chair time, improved accuracy, fewer remakes, faster turnaround time, and much greater efficiency for clinics, labs, and patients. The reality is that dental professionals who haven’t started adapting to digital methods are finding it more challenging to compete with their peers. And this widening competitive gap will only continue to accelerate in the future.

Dental clinics and labs that have transitioned to a digital workflow look back at analog methods and recall a slow, cumbersome past. In fact, the output from digital workflows is higher than from analog production, which can multiply revenue potential.

Steven Campbell is the Managing Director of Nexus Dental Laboratory and President of the Dental Laboratories Association in the UK. He has experienced the transition from analog production to using a digital workflow.

– We have seen a lot of analog labs close down. The demand in the UK sector is huge, which is why we digitize everything because our potential is vastly higher, says Steven.

Streamlined processes mean higher profits

A patient in the provisional phase may have to visit a clinic repeatedly over several months to adjust the temporary restoration. This is because many changes must be made at an external facility. Add to that the time it takes to transport the components, and you get increased wait times and either higher patient costs or less profit for clinics.

Digital workflows streamline the entire process and enable clinic owners to shorten their production time by using their in-house equipment. Today, clinics can make all the adjustments in-house on a 3D printer while the patient is in the clinic.

Once the patient is satisfied with the provisional, the clinic can send the digital file for final milling (avoiding the lengthy adjustment process at an external facility). This saves costs and reduces the number of patient visits, with the potential for higher profits.

The efficiency of the digital workflow also shortens chair time as it requires fewer tweaks and adjustments by the dentist. Shorter chair times allow dentists to see more patients with less wait time between appointments.

Steven Campbell explains what a simple digital workflow of the provisional trial in the patient looks like:

– The files come in on an Elos Medtech scan flow. We design the model, produce a provisional, and work with our partners worldwide for final milling in just one go. Since we keep the original provisional file, when adjustments need to be made, we can bring in the modifications and send it off for final milling without requiring multiple stages of back and forth. This means a very predictable and incredibly cost-effective final outcome. It also cures the dentist’s problem of limited chair time. In the analog workflow, this took an incredible amount of manual technician time and back and forth.

Digital workflows allow for smooth collaboration

It is no secret that transferring information digitally is so much faster and easier than in the past. And yet, many labs and clinics are still casting impressions and stone models, then spending time and money sending them to labs to digitize them.

In the digital world, external partners can be pulled in on an as-needed basis, including both local and global experts. For example, a digital scan can be sent to a lab technician for review almost instantly — it doesn’t matter if they are located 10 or 1.000 kilometers away. The pool of expertise grows vastly when distance and speed of communication don’t restrict a clinic and lab from working together.

Lab technicians can receive scans from a dentist and identify if there are any issues almost immediately. Then, scans can go back to the dentist almost instantaneously for correction. Finally, the corrected scan goes to the lab. It is a streamlined process that results in drastically reduced downtime.

The lab can work with their own software or outsource to their CAD design partners. Once they get the designs back, they can choose to send the files to local or global milling and printing services.

– In the old analog world, casting the model took at least 30 minutes. Then we had to trim the model, dry it out, scan it and digitize it. So that five minutes with digital methods was probably over an hour with analog methods, says Steven.

Digital dentistry turns complexity into simplicity 

Dentists, clinical assistants, orthodontists, and lab technicians manage unique patient scenarios every day. The risk of human error coming into play depends on many factors, including skill sets, equipment, and communication.

It is a long and complicated journey in the analog workflow, from when a patient enters the dental clinic for the first time until he leaves with the final prosthetic. This opens up the entire process to a greater risk of errors from human intervention.

Properly implemented, digitalization improves accuracy and reduces remakes. Working with digital files allows for predictable and precise results because fewer steps are involved between the clinic and the lab. Less manual involvement means a reduced risk of human error. And since most of the information is captured upfront with the initial scan, only minor adjustments need to be made before the final restoration step.

If digital dentistry is the future, what is the catch?

Here is the catch. Dental professionals who use analog tools and techniques but try to adapt them to the digital workflow will likely create more unpredictability, not less. Digital workflows need to be accurate and repeatable to be an improvement over analog methods. If they aren’t, the benefits of fewer remakes, higher profit potential, fewer patient visits, and predictable patient outcomes can be lost.

End users need to know how to combine suitable tools and materials in the right way. They need to be able to trust the various parts of the workflow that fit together to accomplish their desired outcomes.

It can be highly beneficial for someone just starting the transition to digital to have a trusted partner who can provide guidance on the right combinations. Herein lies yet another benefit that digital brings to the table. It is access to a huge community of people working across borders who can answer questions and help with the challenges that a newcomer will inevitably have.

If clinics and labs can start off on the right foot, they can enjoy the benefits of digital dentistry right from the start instead of having to go through a lot of unnecessary trial and error.

– We try to point newcomers to design partners who can help them. I have seen people who have started analog go completely digital within six months. We start by taking baby steps to find out what is comfortable, connect them with partners who can help, and then watch as they grow their business – as they always do, says Steven.

Go digital by starting small and collaborating

There is no doubt that the digital workflow is a vast improvement to the clinic/lab partnership. But going digital can seem overwhelming. Questions like “What is the value proposition?”, “How much equipment do I need?” and “What will it cost me?” are all reasonable to ask.

The good news is that the move to digital can start small, with Dental professionals getting comfortable with the technology and gradually building out their digital workflow. It is not unusual to see a slow conversion from analog to digital. For example, Dental professionals might start using an intra-oral scanner to create a digital impression, which saves time and shipping costs. And later, they might integrate CAD/CAM software to design implant-supported restorations.

Cost savings are remarkable. Not only do clinics and labs save staff hours due to increased efficiency, but they also save costs by avoiding sending jobs physically to external partners. For outsourced jobs, users can pick and choose partners based on their price and quality output. And since there is less rework in digital due to the improved quality, there is more profit.

– Clinics and labs going digital will enjoy an output capacity of five to six times that of analog processes – that is what you can do with a digital workflow. The way we work with provisionals digitally today removes the unpredictability we experienced in the old analog workflow. It is just so incredibly efficient and cost-effective that what you stand to gain is a huge potential for greater profits, Steven concludes.

Are you ready to keep up with the competition?

At the end of the day, the overarching reality is that if dentists and labs aren’t working digitally, they won’t be able to keep up with their competition in the future.

Do you need help on your journey toward a digital workflow? Contact us today!