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In Conversation with Dr. Felix Niemann
Advantages of Digitization for Cooperation between Dental Practices & Laboratories

Advantages of Digitization for Cooperation between Dental Practices & Laboratories

  • The importance of digitization in the cooperation between dental practices and laboratories

  • The practical implementation of digitization in dental laboratories

  • The difference between digital scans and traditional impressions

  • Advancements in the quality of intraoral scanners

  • The future of digitization in dental laboratories

          

Dr. Felix Niemann

Master Dental Technician at PlusDental

  • Master’s degree from the Meisterschule Handwerkskammer in Münster.

  • Master dental technician and laboratory manager at PlusDental.

  • Digitizes dental health systems and brings technical, analog, and digital skills.

  • Location: Bergische Landstraße 30, Leverkusen, Germany 

  • Website: https://plusdental.de/

  • LinkedIn: https://de.linkedin.com/in/felix-niemann-76ab72ab

Goethestraße 42, 10625 Berlin, Deutschland

In Conversation with Felix Niemann

 
 

Digitization is transforming most aspects of dentistry. It’s also transforming dental laboratory workflows and the way dental practices and technicians communicate with each other. In this rapidly digitizing landscape, open cooperation between dental practices and laboratories is more essential than ever before. Felix Niemann, the master dental technician and laboratory manager at PlusDental, believes dental practices and technicians must collaborate to implement new technologies and workflows.

Our team at Zircon Medical recently hosted Felix Niemann on our podcast series to discuss how digitization facilitates cooperation between dental practices and laboratories.

Introducing Felix Niemann, the master dental technician at PlusDental

Felix Niemann is the master dental technician and laboratory manager at PlusDental, one of Germany’s leading dental splint suppliers. As the team lead, he digitizes the dental health system by bringing in his dental knowledge, complemented by technical, analog, and digital skills.

When asked when he realized he wanted to become a dental technician, Felix says he grew up with a dental laboratory. His parents also worked in a dental laboratory, which was connected to their home, so he grew up knowing what they looked like, how they worked, and the daily tasks involved.

Initially, Felix wanted to be a dentist, and that’s what he worked towards in school. Following that path, he completed several internships during his A-levels, working closely with his mentor Dr. Lux in Mannheim. Through the internships, he acquired an intimate understanding of implantology. However, Felix eventually decided to follow in his parent’s footsteps — he started training as a dental technician in his parents’ company. “I wanted to understand everything from A to Z and acquire the skills and abilities to take the knowledge back to school,” he says.

Felix is drawn to the field of the dental technician because it involves lots of manual work, technology, and numerous materials. While he loved working at his parents’ dental laboratory, he had a hunger to learn more, explore exciting new processes, and gain more experience with complex technologies. Eventually, he also wanted to run his own dental laboratory. And that encouraged him to pursue a master’s education at Meisterschule Handwerkskammer in Münster, from which he graduated in 2017. After his master’s education, he knew precisely what his future path would hold.

The importance of digitization in the cooperation between dental practices and laboratories

Felix says he grew up with digitalization, and he’s particularly lucky his father ran his own dental laboratory and encouraged digital curiosity. His father recognized the growing importance of digitization in their trade and actively taught Felix the importance of digital media from an early stage. He realized that the use of digital media for intraoral scans was the ideal positioning for the future.

“Using digital media simply brings very clear advantages,” Felix says. “And that's exactly why the cooperation between the dental laboratory and the dental practice is so important.” In the last few years, Felix says the industry has significantly increased its support for digital media. He believes the trio of digital media, analog experience, and analog knowledge in the specialist areas of dental technology and dentistry hold stellar advantages. 

The practical implementation of digitization in dental laboratories

Felix says the laboratory he works for, PlusDental, has shifted from dental impressions to intraoral scans. Their dentist is trained to work with digitized systems by the dental technicians. They curate effective processes based on the technology, and the dentist is trained to use their systems. After the dentist sends them the scan data, they process it digitally on-site using the CAT software, following which they digitally curate the treatment plan and product.

Due to this collaborative effort between the dental practice and dental laboratory, the patient receives a comprehensive digital treatment plan. The treatment plan is entirely visualized, allowing the patient to compare the initial situation and the prospective end results. The patient also receives a complete visualization of their treatment plan on their mobile phone apps, which is set up by the IT department.

Felix is also excited about the prospect of production in the dental laboratory. His dental laboratory has stopped using plastic kitchens for the models they produce. Instead, they now rely exclusively on 3D printing. They’ve found some excellent printing partners who install the 3D printers and support them with the maintenance. However, believes there’s scope for improvement, such as increasing the precision, speed, and saving on materials.

The difference between digital scans and traditional impressions

Felix is glad that the industry is working hard to ensure intraoral scanners are of the highest quality possible. He believes the primary advantage of digital impressions over traditional impressions is that the data is easily implemented on the computer. “There are no intermediate departments,” he says. “You don't have to scan these plaster models again and then process them digitally. The digital technique is simply much more effective, and the modeling is always more precise.”

When it comes to scanning the plaster model, “there is perhaps a small inaccuracy here and there.” Felix also says scanning traditional impressions is harder and more time-intensive, especially when redesigning and remodeling.

Advancements in the quality of intraoral scanners

When asked about the scan quality of intraoral scanners, Felix briefly compares the quality of current scans with those from a few years ago. A few years ago, the intraoral scanners couldn’t even reproduce black and white images. To avoid surface reflection, dentists had to discreetly spray powder into the patient's mouth while performing the scan. This was far from a pleasant experience as the patient’s mouth would be full of powder.

However, the technology has developed to such an extent that it can now produce live recordings in color. The dentist can see the patient’s oral cavities live with realistic colors, clearly distinguishing the tooth colors and gingival colors. In some cases, Felix says intraoral scanners are also starting to filter out caries. If the patient has caries, the intraoral scanner will highlight them in the live recording, drawing the dentist’s attention.

Furthermore, the intraoral scan can now be performed by the dentist or dental assistant, cutting out the need for intermediaries. This makes the process more streamlined, quicker and prevents the accumulation of excessive scanner data. The dentists and dental assistants can easily be trained to handle intraoral scanners, leading to better results for the dentists and dental laboratories where scans must be processed.

The future of digitization in dental laboratories

When asked about the future of 3D printing, milling machines, and intraoral scanners, Felix cites implantology as an example. He believes the term “backward planning,” a fully digital approach to dental implant planning, will soon be known to all experts. At the moment, the design software can be used to plan implantations with the utmost precision in advanced in the dental laboratory. As such, the dentist receives a prepared treatment path for the situation.

“We use the scan data of the patients,” Felix says, highlighting how digital planning works for implants. “We also use the X-ray data that we receive, match the two together in software, and determine the exact implant position. On the basis of this solution, we can produce a drilling template, print it in our 3D printers, which can then be fitted precisely into the patient, so that the practitioner can navigate it.”

In this case, the dental practitioner receives precise information on the implant site, implant length, the optimal angle of implantation into the bone, and more. After the dental implant is placed, Felix says digitized solutions can also help with the prosthesis. “The dental prosthesis can be designed digitally and then transmitted to the milling machine, soit can be produced in the milling machine.” As such, every aspect of dental implantation can be digitized.

Tips and strategies for dental technicians and dentists

When asked if he has any advice for other dental technicians and dentists, Felix says communication is essential.

Felix believes all dental practices should work on their communication with dental technicians with the end goal of ensuring the patients receive the highest quality of treatment. Instead of treating dental laboratories as separate entities, dental practices should carve out time within the daily schedule to interact with their technicians and exchange information.

Felix says the COVID-19 pandemic has unexpectedly facilitated digital communications, allowing everyone to see how video calls can be implemented on a day-to-day basis to remain connected. Dental practices are now far more likely to use Zoom, WhatsApp, and other platforms to keep in touch with other team members.

Besides communication, Felix also says dentists and technicians must stay informed through informative podcasts, articles, personal exchanges during events, Facebook groups, and other avenues.

If you’d like to get in touch with Felix, you can send him a message on LinkedIn. He’ll also be available at the upcoming IDS Cologne from the 22nd to 25th September 2021. You can also listen to Felix in our Zircon Medical podcast or continue reading for a detailed article on tips to improve communication between dentists and dental labs.

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5 Tips to Improve Communication between Dentists and Dental Labs

An independent article by the Zircon Medical Team

For optimal patient care, dental practices must rely on open and effective communication with their dental laboratories and technicians. Since dental laboratories are often located off-site, practices may struggle to communicate with their technicians on a day-to-day basis. However, regular communication with the laboratory, especially the leading technician, is essential for optimal workflow and patient satisfaction.

According to a study in the British Dental Journal, dental technicians believe their relationships with dentists can be improved in three key areas: 

  • More effective communication between the dental technicians and dentists.

  • Recognizing the technician’s place within the dental team.

  • Dentists should have a better understanding of the workflows and techniques using in labs. 

Out of the three points mentioned above, communication was identified as the most important. After all, improving interpersonal communication between dentists and dental technicians would naturally address the other points. In our podcast discussion with Felix Niemann, he provided valuable insight into improving dentist-technician communications using digital technologies. This article takes the discussion further, providing valuable tips to improve communication.

1 Maintain day-to-day communication with the dental laboratory

The best way to forge an effective long-term relationship with dental laboratories is to maintain day-to-day or weekly communications. The communication should be mandated and fixed in a schedule. During the scheduled communication, the dentists and technicians can address cases, patient feedback, issues with fit, and remakes. Furthermore, seeking and providing continual feedback is also essential.

2. Thorough case documentation during communications

When discussing case documentation, dentists should send comprehensive photographs, RX slips, diagnostic wax-ups, scan data, and other essential information. Complex cases should ideally be followed with interpersonal communications to discuss the patient’s details, facilitating accurate restorations. Furthermore, dentists should also send post-op photos to the laboratories to see the results of their work.

3.  Using digital technologies for more effective communications

If the dental laboratory is off-site, the dentist can use digital technologies to maintain communication. They can use various apps, such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, or others to combine live video calls and chats. Digital technologies can also be used to schedule conferences with multiple individuals, thereby ensuring everyone is always on the same page.

4. Acknowledge their position within the dental team

Dental technicians are essential members of the dental team, providing services that can’t be replicated. Furthermore, they perform complex tasks that are crucial for patient satisfaction. Despite their importance, dental technicians aren’t always made to feel like their integrated members of the dental team. Resolving these issues is simple — ensure regular communication, visit laboratories regularly to understand the workflow, and include them in weekly/ monthly team meetings.

5.  Visit the dental laboratory in person to gain a better understanding of the process

Even if the dental laboratory is located off-site, it’s important to visit the lab once in a while. The dentist can make the visit with other key members of the dental team. The visit would help all members of the dental team interact, build stronger relationships, and develop a stronger understanding of the technologies and processes.



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