Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 02 Dentist Lab Collaboration 1

Communication vs. Collaboration between dentist and dental lab

Feb. 24, 2015
Co-Lab-oration, which invited dentists, clinical staff, and laboratory technicians to join together in a learning environment, has been cancelled. But lab technician Craig Pickett encourages dentists and labs to carry on the organization's ideas.

I was just informed that a two-year-old project developed and implemented by Pam Johnson and Valarie Burger at “Inside Dental Technology” called Co-Lab-oration has been cancelled. This program was done in conjunction with the Greater New York Dental Meeting, and it invited dentists, clinical staff, and laboratory technicians to join together in a learning environment.

While the idea was brilliant and the implementation was exceptional, the attendance and participation by dentists and their association and the lab technicians did not warrant continuation of the program. I suppose this indicates that at least in this venue and perhaps historically, dentists and techs have not wanted to collaborate.

I have addressed the concept of “communication” between the dentist and lab. Communicating is not necessarily collaborating.

When I was a Boy Scout, long before cell phones and GPS, one of the requirements I had to complete was communicating with Morse code. We accomplished this by memorizing the code (a series of dots and dashes developed in 1836 that represent the alphabet), and then learning a system of communicating that code across a valley with a set of flags. This was communicating information, but with the valley separating us, this was not collaboration between the Scouts.

Sometimes I think that communication between labs and dentists is a lot like Morse code and flags across a valley, which is generally one way with a short return answer; --- -.- (OK). Whatever it is, it is not often collaboration.

According to Wikipedia, “Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals. (This is more than the intersection of common goals seen in cooperative ventures, but a deep, collective determination to reach an identical objective.) For example, an endeavor that is creative in nature — by sharing knowledge, learning, and building consensus.”

I like the idea of sharing knowledge, learning, and building consensus. It is in this environment that great projects come to fruition. I dont think that you can do that if the only communication you have with the lab is a prescription or a third party explanation of order. I don’t think that collaboration happens when return explanations are transferred through a third party “gatekeeper.”

Large cases (four to eight units or more) are not clinically decided on in one day. They are planned between a patient, dentist, insurance company, and staff members weeks ahead of time. Yet the lab finds out when it is a “pick-up” with an assigned return date. How much better would it be to sit and discuss the case, the desired outcome, the possible and not possible, the materials best suited for the restoration, and the time necessary to reasonably create this work of art and science.

New communication technologies such as FaceTime, GoToMeeting, and Skype allow you to conference without leaving your respective offices, and see, explain, and understand each other’s perspectives before the completion date. CAD scans and designs can be reviewed and discussed before milling or “try-in” temps can be produced, and prior to the creation of the actual case. The combined knowledge of the dentist and technologist are key to a successful case. Simple one-way, top-down communication may produce the desired outcome, however, it may also be full of “remakes” before it gets there. Collaboration certainly makes a lot of sense.

My father, Floyd J. Pickett, DDS, was an excellent example of collaboration between laboratory and clinical dentistry. He said he learned early from an excellent dental technician, who when faced with a problem of the very delicate rejection of a dentist’s work, would said, “Doctor, I don’t think this is quite up to your usual good standard.” He said when he was told that he’d missed the mark, he wanted to find out why. By the time my father started working with my lab, we were always in each other’s offices discussing our cases, and planning together for a good result. He has long since retired, but even now at the age of 90 it takes him only a few minutes to start talking teeth and cases with me.

Communication is only the beginning of the collaboration we should be seeking. As materials and restorative production processes become more complex, the ability of the technologist and dentist to work together, plan together, and succeed together will become paramount. Then the concept of the Co-Lab-oration meeting will become fully evident.

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Craig A. Pickett, AA, RG, CDT, TE, NBC certified in crown and bridge with technologist designation, is the Dental Technical Support Manager at Whip Mix Corporation. Before joining Whip Mix he managed in large and small crown and bridge /ceramic laboratories, owned Pickett Fabrication in California, and represented J.F. Jelenko & Co., Whaledent, and Dentsply as a Technical Sales Rep. As a 30-year CDT with over 35 years of C&B, ceramics, and industry experience, Pickett now assists in developing and evaluating new products, and represents Whip Mix by presenting technical clinics in the U.S. and internationally. He is the recipient of the 2014 NADL Excellence in Education Award. Learn more about him on LinkedIn.