Today's dental lab industry is evolving into an indispensable resource for dentists. Yet for many, the relationship remains strained. Dentists and lab technicians agree that the key to a healthy working relationship is based on mutual respect, reports the November issue of AGD Impact, the monthly newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).
Dental lab technicians help dentists sort through the growing array of new materials needed to create ceramic crowns or other restorations. The technician can be a key player with the dentist in producing quality esthetics for the patient.
As with dentistry, the lab landscape is changing. Accredited lab technician training programs have decreased by nearly half in the past seven years to about 25. Most labs are on the coasts and in large metropolitan regions, according to Bennett Napier, executive director of the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL).
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of dental labs with 20 to 49 employees increased from 259 in 1997 to 277 in 1999; the number of labs with 50 to 99 employees increased from 55 to 72; labs with at least 100 employees and those up to 250 employees grew from nine to 14 during the two-year period.
The smallest labs, those with one to four employees, saw a decrease from 5,326 to 4,976. That's 350 "mom and pop" labs that went under or, more likely, were absorbed by larger laboratories that picked up experienced technicians and their client lists.
Still, the smallest labs comprise nearly 68 percent of the 15,000 labs operating in the U.S. Industry observers say the trend is driven largely by new technology and the influx of business concepts to a historically artisan, cottage industry.
Drake Precision Dental Laboratory, Inc., for instance, a growing "super" regional lab n Charlotte, N.C., has hired 25 small lab owners in recent years, says director of professional services David Avery. The trade-off, he says, is the difference between trying to do everything for everyone up to 12 hours a day for as little as $9 per hour, in contrast to a better wage and a focus on that aspect of materials and technology that they do (and like) best. No more accounting, no more worrying about keeping clients, better quality control, and access to emerging high technology.
Avery conducts up to 120 programs a year for regional and local dental societies to help bridge the gap between dentists and dental labs through interaction, education, and a high level of professional give and take.
The full article "Lab Work" is available on the AGD Web site -- www.agd.org.