THE JAMESON FILES

Sept. 1, 2000
This month, Dr. John Jameson interviews Robert A. Ditta, president and chief operating officer of Dental Services Group. This company owns and operates 19 primary manufacturing facilities and nine satellite facilities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Most of these facilities market a full product line of fixed and removable appliances.

This month: Laboratory relations with Robert A. Ditta

Dr. John Jameson

This month, Dr. John Jameson interviews Robert A. Ditta, president and chief operating officer of Dental Services Group. This company owns and operates 19 primary manufacturing facilities and nine satellite facilities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Most of these facilities market a full product line of fixed and removable appliances.

Dr. Jameson: In the relationship between the dentist and the laboratory, what communication skills or techniques need improvement?

Mr. Ditta: It`s the dentist`s ultimate responsibility to meet the needs of the patient. This happens more often and to a greater extent when communication is maximized between the dental office and the laboratory. When there is a great deal of trust between the practice and the laboratory, the result is improved patient satisfaction. Whether it`s an impression the laboratory can`t interpret or a shade that isn`t described completely or accurately, if "trust" is present, communications will take place that will enhance the completed restoration.

Technology further enhances our communication with patients. We are very excited about the latest computer-generated shade scanners. This represents an objective way of communicating a shade from the dental chair to the laboratory. The dentist scans the tooth and sends the information by modem or disk to the laboratory. Software enables the laboratory to look at the tooth and determine its shade, as well as view any characterization of adjacent teeth. After completing the restoration, the laboratory will perform final quality control by scanning the crown and allowing the computer to verify the shade.

Some day in the near future, computer-driven communication tools will allow the dental office to directly dial into the laboratory`s production system. This will give the office staff the ability to secure a completion date for their patient`s case before it arrives at the laboratory. The laboratory benefits by knowing its workload many days in advance and can schedule the needed technicians.

Dr. Jameson: What efforts are the laboratory industry undertaking to become a more vital part of the dental team?

Mr. Ditta: Laboratories are partnering more than ever before with the dental practice. One example of this new partnership is providing continuing-education programs on the latest products and techniques. CE requirements are satisfied without having to travel, and the lead time is reduced between the introduction of new services and the dentist`s opportunity to introduce these services to his or her patients. Another form of partnering is providing management-consulting introductions to dentists/clients who have been experiencing rapid growth within their practices. The consultant can help the practice profitably manage its growth.

Dr. Jameson: What laboratory techniques are working best for putting new services in front of active and potential clients?

Mr. Ditta: We find that working one-on-one with dentists and small groups in a study club environment is the best vehicle to introduce new products and services. Some of our customers read or hear about a new product and ask for more information and, in some cases, documentation of the product`s clinical research and "success" statistics.

Dr. Jameson: What increases have been observed in dental office profit margins as a result of practice expansion into new products and services?

Mr. Ditta: From the laboratory perspective, we aren`t directly involved in our customer`s costs and profit margins. However, we are told that the income of dentists has grown significantly from the introduction of both direct and indirect cosmetic products. Whether it is a bleaching system or restoring a patient`s smile with laminates, dentists tell us they are seeing a higher degree of patient satisfaction and practice success. Also, word-of-mouth communication between a patient and his or her friends and relatives leads to more referrals for the practice.

Implant dentistry has also provided more opportunities for practice enhancement. There is a high level of satisfaction when patients have implant restorations that function more like their natural teeth than removable dentures and partials.

Dr. Jameson: What is your vision for the future of the relationship between the laboratory industry and the practitioner?

Mr. Ditta: Dentistry and the laboratory industry will continue to change. The pace of technological change will require more training for the laboratory industry. The introduction of new products will mean a growing partnership in education and training between laboratory staff and the dental office.

Automation will - at least partially - replace the need for technicians. Today, it is almost impossible to find skilled technicians. Automation is taking the form of CAD milling machines, such as the DCS machine and Procera, laser welding machines, mechanical polishing units, and computer-generated shade taking systems. Through some of these new systems - including the use of the computer in communicating between the laboratory and the dental office - we see improved communications which result in higher quality and more consistent products for patients. Also, patients will receive these products in a shorter period of time. The pace of change will require even closer ties between the laboratory and the practice.

Hercules was hurting...

Remember the old song "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth?" Well, Hercules the mountain lion had Christmas in June, receiving four new front teeth thanks to the donation of time and energy of Dr. John Jameson.

Apparently, the former owners of Hercules decided that having the mountain lion as a pet was a good idea, as long as he couldn`t bite them. In a cruel act, Hercules was put to sleep and his four fangs were sawed off nearly at the gum line (see photo), hacking through the pulp, nerves, and blood vessels. By the time Wynnewood, Oklahoma`s GW Exotic Animal Park officials were called, three of Hercules` four teeth were dead, and the fourth suffered from massive infection.

Jameson volunteered his services and, in 30-40 minutes of work, performed four root canals. Hercules has recovered from the traumatic experience and is doing fine today.