What Going Digital Means to Your Orthodontic Lab

07-09-2017

Interviews with Orthodontic lab-owners Christopher Gajewski and Stefano Negrini and VPs, Josh Dobson and Sam Stevenson

Going digital for lab owners, in the short term, means survival: keeping up with the massive changes occurring in the industry. It is a paradigm shift unlike anything that the industry has ever experienced. It means an investment in time and money.

In a 2016 3Shape marketing survey, 50% of the practitioners interviewed were considering buying an intraoral scanner in the next three years.

“I think that number is soft,” said Christopher Gajewski, co-owner of Bryn Mawr Orthodontic Lab in the US and author of the blog “From the Lab Guy.” “I predict it will be closer to 80-90% in two years. All of my orthodontic clients are either there or considering it now. I am currently seeing lab owners losing business because they cannot offer digital services.”

Sam Stevenson, Vice president of Reserve Orthodontic Lab in Medina, Ohio, disagrees with Gajewski’s projection but thinks it is a regional thing. “Not sure if it will be 80-90%, seems high. Regional economics will likely determine a different average all over.” But he continues, “going digital is a must, even if it doesn't lead to growth for your lab, it has to be a service that you offer.”

Whether it is 50% or 90%, the simple fact is that orthodontists and GPs are moving in that direction and labs must follow to stay relevant.

Going Digital: Short Term, Small Picture

In a blog post by Gajewski, he writes, “Short term, small picture, digital orthodontics takes more time and costs money.”

Therein lies the key: short term, small picture. Going digital means there will be new costs for orthodontic labs. Gajewski points at the scanner, computers, software, 3D printer and even the necessity of an entire new department.

But after speaking with Stefano Negrini and Gajewski, the bigger picture comes into focus. The costs of going digital are not only justified but a necessity, a means to grow. For many, it will be a means to hold on to your business.

Going Digital: More business, More Growth

“With the shifts taking place in the industry,” said Gajewski, “I lost 20-25% of my annual revenue three years ago. I should have gone under. By going digital, I not only saved my business and replaced the lost revenue, but am looking at my best year ever.”

Stefano Negrini, SDT and owner of Team Ortodonzia Estense, Italy, has seen massive growth. “In 2009, we were only three people. Since going digital, we have gotten so much more work that I had to hire five more people. Digital is responsible for 80% of this growth and I now have clients from all over the world.”

At its outset, “going digital” for a lab means being able to accept the intraoral scans that doctors are increasingly sending, and printing models to make the traditional appliances they request.

Negrini and Gajewski emphasize the precision digital brings to their work. Digitally created appliances fit better.

When you print or mill a model from a digital impression, it is very precise,” said Negrini. “There is no chance of breakage or distortion. And you can keep on using the milled, printed or virtual model as opposed to poured impressions that chip and break over time. Because the initial impression and resulting model you start with is more precise, your appliances fit better.

Since my going digital, customers no longer want to work the old way. They prefer digital. And for me, going digital has meant that I will never go back to the old way of orthodontics. In fact, within the next year, I plan to work exclusively digital from now on.”

A more precise fitting appliance means less time for the orthodontist. Less time for the orthodontists means a greater profit margin. That translates to the labs as well.

Going Digital: Long Term, Big Picture

Short term, small picture, as doctors make the transition to a digital work flow, going digital for a lab means keeping up with the times and staying in business.

Long term, big picture, it will mean increased profits for labs as they overcome the initial investment and learning curve.

Josh Dobson, VP & CFO of Dobson Orthodontic Laboratory in Georgia said, “Going digital is more than just 3D printing: it encompasses digital setups, treatment planning, and collaborative marketing with the orthodontists.”

Besides being able to pull from a worldwide market base, as Negrini has, the future of digital also means an expanded array of services and products to offer.

In his clinic, “The New Orthodontic Lab,” given at the Dental Lab Association of Texas (DLAT), Gajewski spoke about the changing industry.

“Lab owners have had it relatively easy for the last 30-40 years,” he said. “We could be lab owners without really being business owners. We could simply be technicians. Prescriptions with casts would flow in and our bookkeepers would send out invoices at the end of the month. Up until a year ago, I did not even know what ROI meant (return on investment). It is just not like that anymore.”

Gajewski thinks the closest comparison in the industry is when pre-made bands hit the market 30-40 years ago. In some labs, over half of their revenue was making bands and placing brackets for each individual tooth. With pre-made bands, and then bondable brackets, labs either went under or adapted to the new business model.

30 years ago, the business model was becoming a Hawley and Hyrax lab. Now, the new business model is based around digital.

Dobson said, “The labs that take digital seriously (and push it with their customers) should be seeing about 50-60% of cases today being digital. Our lab is over 80% digital, but we started out that way out of the gate. As some of the older, established orthodontists start to retire, that number will go up with the new, tech-savvy graduates entering the market.”

Digital Impressions Are More Than Impressions

Many doctors are still only concentrating on the small picture of digital orthodontics: marketing, digital records, and perfectly fitting retainers. In the big picture, there is digital set-ups, treatment planning and simulation, aligner systems, indirect bonding and so much more including ways for the doctors to save time through less appointments.

“All of my marketing,” said Gajewski, is two parts: 1) I am here and I am 100% digital and 2) This is what you can do with digital.” In the new business model—as Dobson pointed out—"we have to collaborate more with orthodontists and dentists, work with them to develop the full potential of a digital workflow.”

A digital workflow is more efficient and cost effective for doctors, which they are catching on to quickly as strong growth in intraoral scanner sales points to.

“While going digital may be intimidating in the start, once you begin to understand how the software works, it goes very fast,” said Negrini. “The digital workflow is a more efficient way to work. For labs, I would say that it is imperative that they go digital. My success is proof that customers want to work digitally.“

Negrini adds, “It may be difficult for labs to understand, but to protect your future, you need to invest money on going digital.”

Special thanks to Christopher Gajewski, Bryn Mawr Orthodontic Laboratories owner, for his time and research in creating this story.

For expertise on going digital, contact Christopher Gajewski at http://www.brynmawrortholab.com/contact/

Stefano Negrini at http://www.ortodonziaestense.com/EN/The-Team-4bc7b100