Teeth were the talk of Chicago during the last week of February as meetings and tradeshows took place at McCormick Place on the South Side and the Westin, Swiss Hotel, and Hyatt Regency on the North Side.
Among the highlights was a presentation at the Cal-Lab Group’s annual meeting by Jim Glidewell on the state of the dental technology industry.
Glidewell, the President and CEO of Glidewell Laboratories, opened by saying that digital dentistry was “the end of a way of life” for veteran technicians and “the loss of a rewarding lifestyle.” He said laboratories must “adopt or die.”
Glidewell said it is important to remember, though, that the priority of the profession remains unchanged—to serve the patients above all else.
He said laboratories must make changes to offer better services at a cheaper price because if they do not, someone else will—or dentists will increasingly turn to the chairside option. “It has been proven that doctors accept the monolithic option,” he said.
However, just having CAD/CAM machines is not enough, Glidewell said. Laboratories must find ways to capitalize on the benefits of those machines. One idea Glidewell suggested that could be an option in the future is mobile milling centers.
Implants and implant-supported restorations are growing exponentially and will decrease the demand for bridges to the point of extinction, Glidewell said. Using cheaper parts for implants, he added, could be a way for laboratories to make more profit on this offering. “I have not honestly seen any problems with after-market parts,” he said.
Another important part of doing business today and in the future, Glidewell said, is online marketing. Once you can build a following, he said, by offering continuous contributions, you can spend less time spreading the word yourself and more time watching others spread it for you.
Glidewell said his business has succeeded in part because it never focused on the top 10% in terms of wealth. Instead, the company has emphasized function over esthetics, and finding less expensive ways to make crowns.
“Catering to the wealthy is the sole growth inhibitor of many of today’s labs,” he said.
A keen business sense also is necessary, Glidewell said. Vertical integration, he said, is critical, but another key is understanding one’s limitations and not overextending.
“You don’t have to be the best ceramist to have a very successful laboratory,” he said.
Toward the end of his presentation, Glidewell listed some predictions for the future of the industry:
- Precise change can be difficult to predict
- Dentures are likely to increase with the growing edentulous population
- Gold crowns, already down 60%, will plummet closer to 10% and be used almost exclusively for extremely close bites
- Expect a 90% reduction in PFM restorations
- All-ceramic crowns & bridges are a segment that will dominate the restorative industry, with zirconia serving as the primary material
- Bridges will decrease as dental implants become more affordable
- Future competition – companies like Sirona will build their equipment into “Smart” dental chairs
Glidewell said that today, laboratories are managed by technicians who converted analog knowledge to digital production, but that future facilities will be owned and managed by people with no prior dental technology knowledge whatsoever.
“It is getting that easy,” he said.
Glidewell said the primary business of local laboratories is to supply digital restorations, but he added that he does not see chairside systems influencing that part of the laboratory business for the foreseeable future.
He said it is not a stretch to say the complete digitization of dentistry is on the horizon, with intraoral scans, virtual treatment programming, and fabrication of same-session restorations.
The result of digitization, Glidewell said, is that dental laboratories stand to provide more consistent results to a greater number of patients.
“I hope you’ll join me in embracing the developing future, rather than resisting it,” he said.