Breaking Down Barriers

by Otto Sabo, RDT

What options are available to a dental practice to have a predictable and harmonious relationship with the dental lab? First, we need to understand the nature of the relationship. We have all heard this unique and very special partnership described like a marriage between dental technologist and dental practitioner. I’ve always enjoyed this comparison because of their definitive similarities.


One of the underlying concerns in our field is that there are so many different approaches as to “what works best.” Esthetics and occlusion are primary examples. Since most of us have different educational backgrounds, versatility and compromise must be adopted to achieve great overall results. Synchronizing our education, sharing our literature, and accompanying each other to courses and seminars are the kinds of things we should be doing. We must do this together to become one harmonious team.

Dental philosophy

Dental philosophy may be the most diverse area of all. The odds of both teams having an identical education, for example, are remote. Even if we did, our philosophies are still going to be diverse to a certain extent. Because of these things, we are most likely to agree to disagree. Because both the dentist and the dental technologist are part of a team, certain standards must first be developed, then agreed upon, internalized, and finally, strengthened with mutual reinforcement.


Precision of science and technique are equally essential for success. A continuous review of practices in labs and offices should be done, to ensure our teams are in sync with one another. Precise measurements of materials to ensure accuracy, and times followed per manufacturers instructions will ensure this. We cannot assume that everything is always being done to specifications, therefore each team leader should check periodically to ensure that materials are being utilized correctly in accordance with manufacturers guidelines, in order to reduce risk, and produce a more consistent product. Also, any new materials introduced to the teams should be communicated to one another. For example, if a dental practice introduces a new impression material, it should be communicated to the lab. If the lab introduces a new porcelain product, the dentist should be aware of it.

Skill and technique

As in all professions, there is a wide range of skill levels; of course in a field of extreme precision like ours, every thing we do is magnified, leaving very little room for error. We must exercise humility when approaching a difficult situation with the utmost care and caution, working closely at finding an approach both teams feel they can execute before proceeding. If either team is left feeling “forced” to proceed with something they are certain they cannot execute, it will lead to great disappointment for the patient and dental teams respectively. In this regard, we must be open and honest about these extenuating circumstances and not give one another anything less than a proactive approach to reducing risks, which may exist.

A critical ingredient to this working relationship is sometimes a sticking point; that is “time.” We must take the time to work these circumstances out. We must unilaterally take the time to work on the obstacles in our paths and conquer them. If a dental technologist insists there are things to work out technique-wise, then it must be of high priority. Likewise for the dental lab. If a doctor has issues with the lab, a meeting about that issue must be addressed as soon as possible. Do not delay… it is a great opportunity to solve problems, which would otherwise linger, resulting in more dissatisfaction.

Providing an appropriate amount of time for one another to complete the tasks we face, and asking for feedback on our performances, are things that may we may be omitting from our daily routines, but we should be open to honesty, and be willing to take into consideration the evaluations that are placed upon us.

Sometimes all that separates the great from the average is the willingness to confront issues. The key is identifying obstacles and having the determination to overcome them. Dr. Peter Dawson once said, “We don’t have to be masters of the basics; we simply have to know which basics to master.”

Communication through understanding

Communication is a vital part of any relationship. The fact is, there can be, and are, great losses whenever a breakdown occurs in this area. From impressions to models, bite registration, photographs, and prescriptions, how accurately we communicate is vital.

Understanding, deciphering and equating that which was communicated is critical. It is essential to have a smooth unobstructed flow of information without prejudice. If the dental practice requires more esthetics from a case, then the dental lab has to approach this not as a knock of their skills, but an opportunity to better satisfy the patient. The same is justified in turn. If a dental lab requires a more accurate impression or different type of bite registration, then the dental practice should view this not as a criticism or demeaning of their skills, but the opportunity to improve communicating factors existing in the oral environment. This type of feedback, back and forth can be a touchy area. Fear will sink us into mediocrity, but fear not, because we can handle these issues by exercising our duty to communicate freely and without prejudice.


Our profession is often times very humbling. Synchronicity of goals, making unified decisions and achieving them is critical in our joint advancements. Neither team can advance very far without the other. Achieving greatness is not only possible, but there for the taking. Let’s do it together as partners, not only for our mutual admiration and respect, but also for the sake of our patient’s dental health. Make your mission statement… to achieve quality of life and peace of mind for our patients, dental practices, and dental labs.

Otto Sabo, RDT, owns and operates Second Nature Dental Laboratories Inc., a high level laboratory specializing in esthetics in harmony with occlusion. He also lectures part time with T.I.D.E.