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Technicians’ Time Is Now
IDT discusses the state of the profession with Todd Fridrich, CDT, President of the American Prosthodontic Society
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): When you look at the clinical landscape, what major shifts in the structure of dentistry are poised to impact the businesses of dental laboratories?
Todd Fridrich, CDT (TF): The growth of corporate and multi-practice groups is the most significant development. Additionally, new generations of dental graduates less steeped in clinical hands-on experience and with little to no training in laboratory processes are impactful. This, of course, is due in part to rapid advances in technology. I had the good fortune of spending 12 years in dental education as a technology instructor, so I witnessed this firsthand. According to a 2017 ADEA Senior survey, the top four areas dental graduates say they are least prepared to practice in are digital dentistry, orthodontics, implantology, and occlusion. Honestly, they have a lot to absorb and sizable debt.
IDT: What new business opportunities do these changes in the clinical structure present for dental laboratories?
TF: Laboratories will have the most opportunity as sources of digital knowledge and experience. Digital expansion is projected such that within 3 years 50% of all practices likely will have an intraoral scanner. That is incredible. No one has a better depth of knowledge with a broad base of cases and data to help advise these clients, so there will be a significant shift away from being a product vendor to being a solution provider and case consultant. Technicians will own this area.
IDT: What business strategies do dental laboratory owners/managers need to adopt to take advantage of these opportunities?
TF: We need to seek out associations that place value on the team approach. In my case, that was the American Prosthodontic Society. We need to support associations and manufacturers that promote a collaborative learning environment. Due to the cost of technology, manufacturers will play an ever-increasing role in education, and this creates a delicate balance between conflicts of interest for both parties. Finally, it is the growing business aspect of dentistry that will require owners and managers to sharpen more than technical skills. It is hands and minds, minds and hands.
IDT: What value propositions or unique attributes do these types of educational experiences offer that other meetings don't?
TF: Personal networking with master clinicians and technologists. In the APS, I am an equal member to my clinical colleagues; I garner respect as they do, not as an affiliate or associate member. We stand on common ground with common goals. We greet each other as colleagues, and we act as equals. Additionally, we have the ability to serve at the highest level of the society. I am humbled and honored to serve as APS president this year. I appreciate the fact that APS members feel I have the skill set to lead both clinical and technical members in this team-approach environment.
IDT: Why do you believe the team approach, a phrase that has been used for years, will now be considered the future for the dental industry and how has that concept changed in recent years?
TF: The comprehensive knowledge of the technician is playing an ever-increasing role in clinical treatment. That role is expanding exponentially. There was a time when clinicians designed their own partial dentures. Now, technicians are planning implant treatment and placement. Proximity of the technician to the patient has raised public awareness and refined business practices. I am delighted to see that laboratory owners now participate in the management of some dental service organizations (DSOs).
IDT: With all these changes, how do you envision the dental landscape looking 5 or 10 years or more down the road?
TF: DSOs will grow exponentially, and they will become the most common provider of dental health care services—similar to what we have seen with the medical, optical, and pharmacological fields. These changes will leverage buying power along with relationships, and that is significant. 50% of all dental graduates will enter DSOs due to financial factors and opportunities. Technicians will play a role in DSO ownership and operations, and I strongly believe that the relationship between the clinic and the laboratory will be increasingly based on business principles. The technicians who have good business practices along with good skills or good manufacturing will be the ones who succeed.