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Inside Dental Technology
January 2015
Volume 6, Issue 1

A Modern Tool for Extracting Painless Communication

Reinvent your laboratory with exocad’s out-of-the-box thinking

Few in the industry have a clearer vision of the direction dentistry is heading than Ryan Johnson. Perhaps that’s because he’s been involved in and experienced many aspects of the dental industry from the clinical and technical sides to research and development for major manufacturers. After being raised in a family in which both his father and uncle were dentists, Johnson earned a pre-med degree from college. Undecided whether to pursue medicine or dentistry, he began working in local dental laboratories in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area, first employed as a crown and bridge waxer and finisher and then in the ceramics department for both high-end and large-production laboratories.

It was a simple phone call that changed his life’s direction. Johnson had long forgotten about an application that he had submitted for a master’s program in dental biomaterials at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When the college called to inform him his application had been accepted, Johnson was quick to leave the bench. At Marquette he became immersed in the material science side of dentistry, primarily ceramics and zirconia veneering systems. But before he could finish the master’s program, life interceded again and he was hired by 3M ESPE as a trainer and technical support person for the company’s Lava™ CAD/CAM system. At 3M he became involved with digital dentistry and flourished, immersing himself in the product development side of dentistry from the True Definition impression scanner to the Lava Ultimate project. It was the challenge of getting involved in the science of product development that he found most attractive.

Another phone call would bring him back into the dental laboratory—this time from Peoria, Illinois-based Dental Arts Laboratories (DAL). DAL is a highly respected network of 11 laboratories located mainly in the Midwest. "Essentially my mission and DAL’s goal was to remake the company into the most high-tech, cutting-edge laboratory in the world," Johnson said.

The largest obstacle for transforming DAL into an in-house milling/printing facility was the fragmented and proprietary nature of most CAD/CAM systems on the market. Most employed software that locked laboratories into a limited number and type of product offerings, communication capabilities, and functionality. Johnson’s goal was to find a software platform that would allow the creation of a network of digital production centers unencumbered by these limitations. That meant finding a software communication, design, and production platform that offered extreme flexibility, could accept and work with digital data files from any source, and was intuitive enough that technicians found it easy to work with. "If a new technology launched onto the market, I didn’t want our laboratories to be in a situation in which we would need to invest in another new system and disrupt production to train our technicians on a new CAD software platform," Johnson says. He wanted to partner with a company that understands the needs of technicians, can and will react quickly to changes in the market, and one that aligns with his philosophy of an open flexible system that keeps laboratories in the loop and seamlessly and robustly interacting with the practice. "That’s when I met the developers of the exocad software platform," Johnson says. "This is a solutions-focused company that is committed to helping both dentists and laboratories optimize their core skills and businesses and strengthen the dentist-technician relationship, which will be essential going forward."

Johnson envisions the laboratory becoming an important partner in the digital restorative process, regardless of whether the dentist is milling in-house or sending digital data to the laboratory. "Our laboratory network is outfitted with this powerful software platform. One of the most important features for us is that it allows our network to accept digital files from any of the unencrypted digital impression systems on the market. This next year we may see upward of an additional 20 digital impression scanners come to market, most or all of which will be open architecture. Competition will drive down prices and accelerate the adoption rate by dentists. It will be vital that laboratories have the software capability to accept files from any one of them so they can stay in the restorative game, whether designing the end product for a milling practice, participating in implant placement planning and restorative design/production, or accepting data files for milling or printing the end product," Johnson says. As he describes it, the software builds a bridge between the practice and laboratory, enabling data files to move seamlessly back and forth and keeping each party focused on what it does best. DAL, which is an exocad reseller, and Johnson are impressed with the software feature that offers the ability to send an interactive 3D PDF of the design proposal to the dentist. The PDF can be viewed on any smartphone, computer, or tablet without the need to download any special application, which removes a common barrier found with other proprietary software communication platforms. The practitioner can turn on and off different aspects of the design and restorative proposal to see every aspect of the case. The proposal can be displayed on a split screen, so the dental team can use Skype to discuss any changes or adjustments on the case that need to be made. "This level of communication between the practice and laboratory will become increasingly important as the industry moves forward," Johnson says." Technology is giving the laboratory the unprecedented ability to connect with the dental practice in a more meaningful way and bring value to that relationship. Not only are technicians today experts in the digital restorative arena, but also tomorrow’s technicians can and will be the digital experts and support team for their clients. We need to think outside the box and embrace the new opportunities that this type of software technology is providing for our industry."

Ryan Johnson, Chief Technology Officer at DAL Peoria, IL

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