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Inside Dental Technology
March 2019
Volume 10, Issue 3

Milling Tools – The Bottom Line

Choose the best tools for your laboratory’s needs

Greg Everett

At this point, it's safe to say that digital is here to stay. For the experienced and newcomers alike, the game has become about efficiency. Digital restorations have become commodified to some degree. How can you make a better product more cost-effectively? The focus of this article is on some of the lowest hanging fruit: milling tools. Are the tools your laboratory uses providing a net benefit? Or are they a drag on your bottom line?

Regardless of the mill being used, the end result is always a milled part from the machine. So much of the energy and effort that go into manufacturing a milled unit originate at the milling tool. Since the tool is the last non-human point of contact with the restoration, it can either be the weakest or strongest link in the digital production chain. There are so many choices available for tooling that it can be a daunting task to identify the best solution for your laboratory. Below are the most important aspects to consider when deciding on tooling.


Cost is always a critical factor in any business decision. Laboratories should keep in mind that they're not just buying a tool, they're buying what the tool does. Don't buy tooling based on the cost of the tool itself. The best way to measure your tool's cost efficiency is on a per-unit basis-how many units you're milling per tool. It can take a bit of homework, but it pays to be diligent. Track unit production for a month to understand the cost per unit made with that particular tool. With this exercise, many laboratories that use less expensive tools find that their cost per unit is significantly higher than the resulting cost per unit when using a higher-level (diamond) tool.


Milling tools are not all the same. Compatibility means that the tool works in your system without turning your laboratory into a research and development firm. It's imperative that the tool performs in accordance with both the software and machine. This results in a tool that is dimensionally accurate and specifically designed to work in the system in which it is used. For instance, is your CAM software writing g-code for a tool with two cutting edges? Using a tool with three cutting edges would completely change the milling dynamic.

Technicians who have been fabricating digitally for a while can relate to the "how did that happen" conundrum-that elusive problem that has no apparent cause. Oftentimes an incompatible tool is at the root of these headaches.


It's difficult, if not impossible, to discern the quality of a milling tool with the naked eye. If you read through enough marketing material, you'll find that there are many companies that claim to make the best product. How is that possible? How do you know if you're truly getting the best? The fact of the matter is that real quality stands for itself. Good companies grow organically based on service, support, and word of mouth. The best advice is to ask around. Call your colleagues and ask them what their experiences are. If you're new, ask the person selling to you to put you in touch with some of their customers. Once you're happy with the feedback, make the decision.


In dental technology, relationships are key. Choose a company that's there for you and in it for the long term. Together, Zahn Dental and Sierra Dental Tool blazed the trail by bringing truly high-quality tools to the dental laboratory industry. As a laboratory technician, I've used and recommended Sierra tooling for many years for one reason: the products deliver.


In today's environment, digital dental laboratories are faced with an overwhelming number of choices in equipment and consumables. Milling tools are an oft-overlooked part of this picture. Without becoming an expert, it can be a daunting task to select the right solution for your business. Leverage the trusted relationships around you, and you can't go wrong.

Key Takeaways

 Shop for tools based on tool price per milled unit, not the price of the tool itself
 Make sure your tooling is 100% compatible with your system
 Verify manufacturer/seller service and experience by asking your network
 Partner with a solid, trustworthy company

About the Author

Greg Everett
Business Development and Tech Support Manager
Sierra Dental Tool
Auburn, CA

Company Information

Zahn Dental

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions contained in the preceding material are not of the editors, publisher, or the Editorial Board of Inside Dental Technology.

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