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Inside Dental Technology
August 2023
Volume 14, Issue 8

Continuing Education for Business Success

Laura Kelly, AAACD

Continuing education plays a key role in the success of a dental laboratory. Early in my career, I had the opportunity to see our cases seated; be present for appointments such as patient consults, preparation, and implant placement; and observe other specialties in dentistry such as periodontics and orthodontic procedures. This provided the first of many "aha" moments for me that shone a light on the importance of understanding what occurs outside of the laboratory environment. Dentistry is advancing; with new technologies, materials, and techniques emerging, the dental laboratory can increase awareness of these trends to improve results for dentists and their patients. Dental laboratory professionals should prioritize advanced learning and continuous professional development to stay competitive and further develop skills to meet dentists' evolving needs. Here are some areas where continuing education can benefit a laboratory, its employees, and its customers.

Dental Technology Advancements

Staying updated on the latest advancements in dental technology, such as digital dentistry, CAD/CAM systems, 3D printing, milling strategies, and intraoral scanning capabilities and techniques is necessary. Incorporating these technologies can enhance the dental laboratory's efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. In addition, you become a trusted, valuable resource upon which your customer base can lean when they run into issues or have questions.

Materials and Techniques

Keeping abreast of dental material developments—such as zirconia, ceramics, resins, removable solutions, and implants—and techniques for fabricating restorations will enhance results and keep employees engaged. This knowledge enables laboratory professionals to keep up with dentists' and patients' expectations, and encourages technicians to be excited about their important role in the profession.

Esthetics and Complex Cases

Attend courses or hands-on workshops focused on esthetics and complex cases. Advanced training will develop and increase the laboratory technicians' competence and expand their ability to partner with highly talented clinicians. And if you can attend courses geared to both clinicians and technicians, it's an ideal environment to connect with like-minded professionals and develop relationships that can last a lifetime.

Communication and Customer Experience

Investing time in learning how to improve your communication skills and interactions with dentists and other dental team members is invaluable. Understanding how to effectively deescalate tense situations, address difficult topics with ease, and deliver an exceptional communication experience will foster strong relationships with customers and colleagues.

Business and Management Skills

Identifying the leaders within your laboratory and supporting them in developing a solid understanding of the key business and management principles important to your laboratory's success can ensure the smooth operation of your dental laboratory—not only currently, but beyond you as the owner. Focus on identifying the key performance indicators, then measure the results and adjust as necessary. Make it simple, clear, and meaningful. Measuring results and sharing with your team is empowering and communicates trust.

Professional Networking

Participate in study clubs, dental conferences, seminars, and industry events to network with peers, dental professionals, and dental suppliers. Building these connections can lead to further collaboration opportunities, knowledge sharing, referrals, and updated knowledge on market trends.

Regulatory Compliance and Quality Assurance

Stay up to date and informed about regulatory compliance standards related to dental laboratories, such as those set forth by the FDA or the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL). Understand and implement quality assurance protocols to ensure consistent and high-quality work.

Prioritizing Clinical Education

Learning about the clinical side of dentistry can significantly benefit a leader and all employees in the dental laboratory. Understanding clinical terminology and chairside procedures opens our eyes to the challenges our customers experience daily, allowing the laboratory to anticipate needs and deliver a better result. Communication between the dental laboratory and the clinical team is important, and as a leader, learning to effectively communicate with our teams about the challenges customers can face is time well spent. Better understanding of a clinical environment can open possibilities for further communications about such topics as preparation requirements, treatment plan options, material selection, and the patient's expectation from their dental treatment.

Improved Case Planning

Knowledge of clinical procedures allows a laboratory to participate in case planning discussions more effectively. By understanding the clinical implications, patients' desires, and any challenges associated with specific treatment options, together we can provide valuable input and suggest alternative approaches that can enhance the overall outcome of the case.

Efficient Workflow Management

Knowledge of the clinical environment, patient behaviors and concerns, and the importance of meeting timelines allows a laboratory to review processes and workflows. The arrival of a late case can set up a domino effect for the entire day in a practice, and typically this is an area a laboratory technician doesn't see. Spend a day in a practice, and you will find ways to plan and manage the end result for your customers more effectively!

Increased Trust and Credibility

Learning about the clinical environment screams "We get it!" and can help laboratory leaders gain the trust and respect of the clinical team. Dentists and other clinicians appreciate laboratory leaders who are familiar with clinical procedures and understand the challenges both technically and with patient management, as well as those who can deliver restorations that align with their treatment goals. This fosters a strong professional relationship and enhances the laboratory's reputation within the dental community.

Overall, a leader in the dental laboratory who possesses knowledge of the clinical side of dentistry can effectively bridge the gap between the laboratory technician and the clinical team. This results in improved communication, better case planning, enhanced problem-solving abilities, efficient workflow management, increased customer satisfaction, and a higher level of trust and credibility. Laboratory technicians benefit tremendously by realizing the important role they serve in improving health and function, as well as the positive impact they can make on customers and their patients' lives.

Providing Educational Opportunities

As a leader, you can take several steps to provide educational opportunities to motivate dental laboratory employees. Start by understanding your employees' individual educational needs and aspirations. Conduct assessments to gather information about their skills, interests, and areas for cross-training and growth. This can help you tailor educational opportunities to their specific needs, and often you will be surprised to find they have additional, previously unknown skills that can benefit the laboratory.

Promoting a culture of continuous learning within your dental laboratory can serve as a competitive advantage in attracting new employees and keeping your existing team inspired. Encourage employees to value and prioritize their professional development and dedicate specific time slots to learning something new. Emphasize the importance of staying updated on industry advancements and acquiring new skills that will allow them to expand their knowledge and add value to your laboratory.

Allocate a budget for employee education and training initiatives. This may include areas such as attending conferences, hands-on workshops, or webinars and subscribing to online learning platforms. Investing in an employee’s educational development demonstrates your commitment to employees and builds competencies to support the future success of your laboratory.

Strategic partners are an excellent resource for in-house training sessions or on-site workshops conducted by experienced professionals and industry experts. These sessions can be tailored to your specific needs, and can cover a range of topics such as new technologies, materials, techniques, or specific skills relevant to improving communication and learning how to manage difficult conversations. The dental laboratory's operations are important, and how we speak and treat people is equally valuable in creating a healthy and positive work environment. Encouraging your top employees to share their expertise and facilitate peer-to-peer learning has been successful at our laboratories, and people love to share!

The dental community also has excellent educational programs and seminars locally. Support employees’ participation by covering registration fees, travel expenses, and time off. External programs provide exposure to a broader range of ideas, networking opportunities, and insights from industry leaders. Scheduling a download meeting after the event is a good way to share key takeaways with your team.

Another way to share knowledge is to establish mentorship programs, pairing experienced employees with those less experienced or who are seeking to develop specific skills or knowledge in a different department. Mentors can provide guidance, share their expertise, and help employees navigate their career paths effectively. Consider adding an incentive to the mentor for their willingness to support fellow employees.

Acknowledge and celebrate employees’ learning achievements and milestones. This can be done through internal recognition programs, awards, and appreciation of their efforts. Recognizing their dedication and growth can further motivate employees to pursue educational opportunities.

Continuously assess the effectiveness of the educational initiatives you implement. Gather feedback from employees to understand the impact of the educational events they attend and adjust as needed to better meet their expectations, as well as meet the laboratory’s needs for development in select areas. By prioritizing and customizing employee education and creating a supportive learning environment, you can empower your dental laboratory’s employees to enhance their skills, stay updated with industry advancements, and contribute to the overall success of your laboratory.

About the Author

Laura Kelly, AAACD, is CEO of MicroDental Laboratories and Modern Dental North America.

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