Digital solutions optimize the business of dentistry
As the dental laboratory industry continues to move into the digital sphere, new business opportunities and business models are emerging to take advantage of the seamless flow of digital data. Hoping to change the nature of competition, pioneering business entrepreneurs are creating digital platforms that promise to reshape digital production workflow, open new avenues for laboratory owners to market, sell, and buy products, and enhance organizational structure and production by facilitating business workflows for both laboratories and dentists. Just as Amazon did for commerce and Uber did for the taxi industry, these businessmen are forging new options in the industry’s digital economy.
One such pioneer is Jordon Comstock. He observed early on as Digital Marketing Manager of Salt Lake Dental Lab that an engaging, user-friendly website is one of the first steps to embracing digital business solutions while a poorly maintained website can take a toll on a business. In 2011, Comstock founded RocketFire Marketing (rocketfiremarketing.com), a turnkey hosted website solution designed specifically for the dental industry. The RocketFire team designs and maintains websites for dental practices and laboratories.
“Too often, clients hire a web designer, pay $5000 to $10 000 to have their website created, and then simply leave it unattended,” Comstock says. “They do not always have the time to manage a website, because their skillset is focused on dentistry and dental technology, not writing computer code.
“With our service, clients can choose their own templates, photos, and text, and then we help manage it. They can log in and change any content they wish, but if they don’t have the time, they can call us and we do it for them.”
Although dentists and laboratories may not realize the importance of the appearance of their website, Comstock emphasizes the potential effects of a first impression.
“The first place people learn about a company is online,” he says. “It is essential that their online platform looks professional, or else people will move on to explore a competitor’s site.”
Creating New Online Pathways
While a strong website helps laboratories market their own products and services, finding a centralized online global marketplace for laboratory owners to buy and sell products and services has been out of reach until now. Crownbox (crownbox.com), a digital solution that connects laboratories to milling centers and other suppliers, allows laboratories to sell their products and also purchase products and services from other online partner suppliers.
The creator of this digital marketplace is Alex Frangadakis. He has worked for his family’s laboratory, California Dental Arts, since 2007, and saw a need for an online platform to facilitate transactions in the industry. His creation is an e-commerce marketplace for digital dentistry. Milling centers and suppliers can list products and services, and laboratories can purchase them directly through Crownbox’s website.
“The industry continues to evolve, and digital dentistry is the way of the future,” Frangadakis says. “However, that does not necessarily mean that it is becoming easier for us to do our jobs.”
Frangadakis hopes to improve laboratory workflow by making Crownbox as user-friendly as possible. Anyone can create an account and list their products for sale.
“Many companies are investing in technology, for both milling and design, but connecting the milling centers and design laboratories was not always easy,” he says.
Crownbox allows users to upload STL files directly to its site, rather than emailing them or using file transfer sites. For milling centers that receive cases from all over the country, Frangadakis says, Crownbox helps simplify the processes for accounting and management.
“Many Crownbox features are specifically built for business purposes, such as multi-user management,” he says. “A user can invite employees to the account, so individuals have fine-grain control over what they can access.”
DropDental (dropdental.com) has also zeroed in on the file transfer process. The owners of FullContour, a digital design service, noticed that this process was particularly arduous for laboratories that work with several different milling partners. They hired Brandon Camping, who had spent nearly 7 years working for Apple, to serve as CEO of the new free file-transfer platform, which is a separate enterprise from FullContour, except for giving users the option to send cases there for design.
“We noticed the amount of wasted time laboratory personnel were spending by logging into eight different production center websites and then tracking all their orders through each individual website,” Camping says.
Using DropDental, laboratories can either upload scan files for design or designed cases for production to one of the 25-plus manufacturers that partner with DropDental currently.
“It is extremely beneficial for laboratories to have one platform for all their cases, regardless of whether the cases need designing or not,” Camping says.
DropDental allows a laboratory to begin editing an order while the upload is still in progress—a technology that is patent-pending and not available anywhere else, even outside the dental industry, Camping notes. If no editing is necessary, the user can drag and drop all the files and send within seconds.
Camping says one customer studied the process and determined that DropDental cuts the time spent managing cases by 90%, equating to approximately $100 000 per year in labor costs.
Bid for Cases Online
Soon, a case sent to be milled via either DropDental or Crownbox might be one that is bid on and derived through another digital solution. Apollonix (apollonix.com), expected to launch in late August, is an online exchange for dentists and dental laboratories. Founder and CEO Paul Shin says to think of Apollonix as a crowdsourcing site for oral prosthetics.
“Soon, a dentist will be able to post cases on the website, whether it be for crowns, dentures, or implants, and laboratories will be able to bid on those cases,” Shin says. “Dentists may choose a laboratory to handle the case based on prices, completion dates, and reviews.” Improving communication between dentists and laboratories was important to Shin.
“I wanted to provide a digital space for dentists and dental laboratories to connect, because the communication process is often missing,” he says. “Apollonix will have features allowing dental laboratories and dentists to connect with each other via live messaging, and our final product will have video chatting capabilities.”
Shin also hopes for Apollonix to be particularly helpful for small laboratories that cannot devote significant resources to pursuing new accounts.
“Laboratory owners are not necessarily sales people,” he says. “They are focused on being able to produce quality work. Apollonix can ease the sales process. Smaller laboratories can gain more business and increase their exposure to more dentists.”
Eventually, the company sees itself as a catalyst to process efficiencies in the dental industry.
“By opening up the interactions with multiple dental laboratories, dentists are able to continually increase their exposure to new and emerging technologies, methods, and tools,” Shin says.
More digital business solutions like these can be expected to emerge in the future, offering laboratories more opportunities to further build efficiencies into every aspect of their digital workflow, which in turn enhances productivity, opens up new opportunities, and boosts business. Ultimately, laboratories, dentists, and patients all can benefit from the creations of these digital pioneers.
“There is clearly a need out there, and everyone is trying to address it,” Frangadakis says. “We have this great new thing called digital dentistry. Opportunities exist to make it work better, and everyone is pursuing them.”
New technologies for increasing business efficiencies are becoming available almost daily. Whether they are industry-specific tools, handy devices, or web-based solutions, utilizing these innovations can give you a crucial competitive advantage.