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Inside Dental Technology
August 2023
Volume 14, Issue 8

Avoiding 100% Dependence on Technology

Keith Miolen, CDT

Earlier this year, my business slowed down significantly when my largest client's servers were hacked. Their dentists, hygienists, and assistants were all available to work, and patients were scheduled, but their operation ground to a halt because their digital systems were incapacitated. Through this and other experiences, I have learned that dependency on technology often falls along generational lines; older, more experienced dentists utilize technology as an alternative tool to enhance their workflows but maintain a foundation of analog abilities, while the younger generations consider manual impression taking to be "old-school." This is through little fault of their own, as dental schools and continuing education courses today focus primarily on digital scanning. The evolution of zirconia has exacerbated the situation, obviously, because it can only be manufactured digitally. Nevertheless, I never want my laboratory to be in a position where we are wholly dependent on our digital systems to produce restorations for our dentists and patients.

Don't get me wrong; 98% of my laboratory's work is fabricated digitally. We do not even have a model department. When we encounter problems with our digital systems, it impacts us. However, we are prepared to remain operational—albeit at a reduced capacity—in these situations. It happens less frequently now that we have eight milling machines and eight printers, because when one goes down, we still have the rest running. However, as we saw with the client whose servers were hacked, numerous problems can arise with digital technology.

Material Selection

The first key to preparing for these instances is maintaining strong relationships with clients and earning their confidence. If anything happens that I know will affect our workflow, I will call our dentists and discuss revisiting the material selection. I tell them that if they still want a digital crown, the case will likely be delayed, but that I can provide the same quality for the patient with, for example, a pressed lithium disilicate restoration. When the dentist trusts the laboratory to make that change without compromising quality, they can avoid rearranging chair time and the primary difference is just the efficiency of our fabrication process.

Analog Skills

Once the option to change materials has been established, obviously, the laboratory needs to have the skill to deliver those analog restorations. My laboratory is fortunate to have a number of experienced technicians, so we frequently bring the newer members of our CAD department to them for cross-training. Internal training in that manner, if you have that capability, is incredibly valuable. We do not put our people on planes to take weekend courses. We take advantage of our experienced personnel to share their knowledge. With that being said, if a laboratory does not have that benefit, as much external education as possible on fundamentals and analog processes is recommended.

I also am a firm believer in standard operating procedures (SOPs). When I worked for Lee Culp, CDT, early in my career, he taught me that when we charge a certain price for a crown, we need to deliver the exact level of quality that is expected for that price. That means using a consistent process. We accomplish that by implementing SOPs anywhere possible. Whether it is our most experienced technician or someone younger who has only recently learned the skills, our clients can be confident that they are receiving the same quality every time.

Recovering Quickly

The ability to pivot to analog in the event that your digital systems are temporarily unavailable is important. Of course, getting the digital systems operational again as quickly as possible is critical as well. Employing an information technology (IT) professional in some capacity—either full-time or on an on-call, contract basis, depending on the size of the laboratory—is arguably almost as important as having skilled technicians. Obviously, if a disruption occurs in the laboratory's processes, the IT professional can work to resolve it. However, we also have dispatched our IT professionals to local clients in some instances. So many dental offices have become so technically dependent that this is a valued service, and we consider it to be like providing a scanner to a dentist; they appreciate the added value and subsequently send us more cases.

There is no perfect or foolproof way to avoid technology problems disrupting your business. If a large, national client has their servers hacked, even in a best-case scenario, the efficiency of the cases on which you collaborate with them will be impacted. However, being as prepared as possible to potentially continue operating through a disruption in digital processes can salvage valuable business.

About the Author

Keith Miolen, CDT, is Chief Operating Officer at Aurora Dental Lab in Auburn, New York.

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