Why are 65% of dental offices dissatisfied with their labs? What can we do to improve?

January 22, 2024

Did you know that 65% of dental offices are dissatisfied with their dental labs? That’s what we learned from our recent survey. We asked respondents to rate how much you agree or disagree with the statement: “I hate my dental lab.”

The results are shocking: 65% indicated a very high level of dissatisfaction with their dental lab.

Is there any other industry where such a large percentage of the customer base has such distaste for the company with whom they do business? Think about it. Would you eat at a restaurant with 65% dissatisfaction? Would you recommend that restaurant to your friends?

The real question we need to ask is, "Why is it this bad?" What has caused dentists and their staff members to be so displeased with their labs?

We have a few ideas and believe the answers can be narrowed down to 3 primary reasons.

Reason #1: Quality of Labs Has Gone Down
Fewer and Fewer Lab Schools Are Left
Many of the individuals that labs hire now do not have a basic understanding of the principles of dental technology, because there are very few places in the country where lab techs can get formally trained. In general, younger generations have become widely disinterested in trade jobs, especially entry-level ones that are not high paying. With fewer potential students, trade schools have dwindled. As a result, dental labs have to fend for themselves and rely on on-site training when recruiting new staff.

Less Profitability
Labs today earn significantly less money per product than they used to. For example, just a few years ago, most labs charged $200-$300 per crown. Today, the price is typically below $100. Sometimes it can be as low as $35 per crown. (Crowns costing $30 to $60 are generally made overseas and sold to large groups or DSOs with “buying power.”)
Such low pricing hurts domestic labs who make their own crowns and forces them to lower their prices to compete. This aggressive pricing has consequences. Many labs have gone out of business. Others must lower standards to cut costs.
This is where we are: Scores of overseas outsourcing labs. Many sub-par domestic labs. Good labs are few and far between.

Reason #2: Clinical Standards Have Suffered
Depth of Knowledge and Expertise Isn’t What It Used To Be
This is a tough one to say, but it needs to be said. Dental products require a great deal of steps that must be executed with precision and accuracy. But the depth of knowledge and expertise in dentistry today isn’t what it used to be. For example, many dental students aren’t taught how to craft their own crowns or other restorative products. Unfortunately, this creates a lack of empathy for the lab’s perspective about what is necessary to make a restoration. This gap between the clinical side and lab/technical side can have severe and costly consequences.

Assistants today aren’t receiving the same quality of training as they once did. Those who are given comprehensive training are in such high demand that it is hard to keep them, leading to high turnover. This is very hard to manage, especially when it comes to the many intricate protocols and procedures necessary in restorative dentistry.

Dental Practices Are Getting Squeezed Too

As insurance companies tighten their payouts, practices must increase their services and produce more in order to keep earnings stable. Meanwhile, staffers are pushing for higher salaries. On top of all that, dentists are burdened with massive school debt and other significant overhead costs. These shrinking profit margins pressure dental offices to be more efficient, which can lead to a decrease in quality control and standards. This cycle doesn’t only put more pressure on labs to lower costs, but it also contributes to an overall decline in both quality and profitability throughout the industry.

Reason #3: Custom Manufacturing Is Very Complicated
So Many Details, So Much Can Go Wrong

Hopetown Dental Lab

Making dental appliances, both fixed and removable, can be a very tedious and complicated process. There are so many detailed steps and different people involved throughout the process. It takes at least 17 major steps (see sidebar) to create just a single crown. There are many other details within each one. And making removable products and implant abutments are far more complex! 

The sheer number of steps underscores the importance of precision at every stage to achieve satisfactory results in the end. Just imagine how many things can go wrong chairside, plus all of the things that can go wrong in the lab. It’s amazing that any product is successfully made considering all of these points.
But here's the hard truth: sub-par products are made in our industry every day. Despite that fact, those products are still delivered and seated in patients’ mouths.
We—both labs and dentists—are responsible for this travesty. Yes, we all have good excuses for why this is occurring. But ultimately, it is still our responsibility to be accountable and change what we’re doing wrong.

What We Can Do 
• Strive to develop a great relationship with your lab, and make sure they are your most important asset and partner. Keep your lab on speed dial and get on a first-name basis with a consistent point-of-contact. If that person isn’t a decision maker, that’s a red flag.
• Take a look internally and uncover where processes can be improved. 
• Aim for complete continuity between your office and your lab. And when problems do arise—and they will—don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Work objectively to get at the root of the problem.
• Keep in mind how many steps can go wrong in the clinic and in the lab. Work together to pinpoint the root of the problem and find a solution.  
On the other hand, if you have attempted this strategy and your lab is simply not responding and not improving their part (and you know your house is in order), then perhaps it is time to try another lab.
Ideally, pick one that isn’t sending all of their cases overseas, because then they can’t do anything to influence the outcome. They are at the mercy of their overseas lab. By working with a lab that manufactures in the U.S., you will enjoy a much better relationship, because you will have a partner in creating a quality product for your patients.
We suggest some ideas and answers for looking internally and reviewing your processes in our educational blog, "The 4 Most Common Reasons for Remakes." We highly suggest reading it.

Lastly, if you find yourself in urgent need of assistance now, request a one-on-one consultation with us. We will listen to your concerns and explore how we might be able to help.

Hear Directly from our Customers.

Give us a try. Click here for a free crown.
Hopetown Dental Lab
5725 Jacksboro Hwy
Fort Worth, TX 76114
New Customers: (817) 290-4940
Existing Customers: (817) 887-9394