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1st August 2017

Leading the way in digital technology

Laboratory magazine speaks to dental technician Mark Ambridge, the founder of Ambridge Ceramics.

Ambridge Ceramics is a well known and highly regarded cosmetic and implant dental laboratory based Ripon in Yorkshire. Established in 1986, the lab has gone from strength to strength growing
through referrals. They focus on crown and bridge predominately but their expertise lies in implants.

The founder of the lab, Mark Ambridge explains that the digital revolution has transformed the way they work. ‘We were an early adopter of digital technology,’ he explains. We bought the Cerec machine 12 years ago when it first opened its doors to laboratories. We worked with various dentists who had the earlier Cerec cameras.’ Mark describes that as a bit hit and miss and very difficult at first, but the lab persevered.

‘We then bought new equipment such as the Nobel Biocare scanner. We just kept up with technology and we now have four scanners and four different digital dental programmes – 3Shape, Inlab, Dental Wings and Exocad which enables us to receive work from anywhere in the world. So effectively, any brand of intraoral scanner that the dentist may have.’ Ambridge Ceramics has 17 employees and business has grown year on year for them. ‘We are now housed in an exeducation facility, Ripley College, which is an ideal environment for us’ says Mark.

‘We have more space and are all networked and have a central communication system. Ten years we only had one PC in the lab. Now we have more PCs than employees and every technician that has to do finishing work has an iPad – images are sent directly to the dentist.’ Marks says, the only disadvantage is the expense. ‘Labs used to be a fairly cheap business to set up, with a lot of hard work involved,’ he says. ‘Now it is very expensive with a lot of high technology.

The dentists are actually running behind the technicians – we have to be prepared when they turn digital and need to be one step ahead and pre-armed. Labs must be ready to receive the digital workflow. It’s worth investing in new equipment but technology is changing so quickly. It is sometimes hard to keep up. Digital technology has enabled us not to be bogged down with the mundane, everyday work which is time consuming and has improved efficiency tenfold. The automated systems and milling facilities do not mean that the skill is lost. Teeth need a natural look, so the artistry is still there.’

Forward thinking
So what has been the reaction from dentists? ‘They come to us as the experts now,’ answers Mark. ‘Dentists are asking us what materials should they should use. As a technician we keep up to date with dental technology. As a dentist, they keep up to date with dentistry. They rely on the technician and lab to say, in this situation, you’re better off using this material. We are becoming the leaders in the choice of material for restorations because we know more about it. Technicians need to educate the dentist on the technology and they are willing to be educated,’ he adds.

‘Social media is huge. There are so many groups and technicians out there in the world who will just ask for advice and help you online and answer questions. It goes viral pretty quickly as we are a small industry. Sometimes you get to know about new products even before your suppliers!’

Shortage of technicians
Mark explains that there are lots of technicians leaving the industry due to retirement and and not enough replacing them. ‘There are actually more leaving than there are being trained, which is a
huge concern,’ acknowledges Mark. ‘For example, one of my trainees started off with 37 students on his course and now there are only eight left. So there is a massive dropout rate. In Scotland there is a huge problem as there are no training courses for dental technicians – the nearest place is in Dublin. The shortage of technicians means that many labs now rely on EU technicians
who are trained to a very high standard. We really need them and they are highly skilled.’ With Brexit looming, this is something that needs to be addressed.

Pass on the knowledge
Mark has a love of teaching and is passionate about education. ‘You need to pass on your skills and all that you’ve learnt to the next generation of technicians. It’s selfish to just retire and just shut
up shop. The world is losing the technician production element – you’ve got to be open to teaching and bringing people on, from schools and training them in the industry. Schools need to get hold of this as a career. All the associations that are involved should be promoting this industry to schools and career advisors and say look at the career prospects. The majority of the general public don’t know what a technician does. The dental industry needs to make promotional and educational videos and distribute them to the educational centres,’ he says.

Communication and future plans
The key to developing productive relationships with dentists according to Mark is communication. ‘The younger dentists are more appreciative of what technicians do and more open to our suggestions. Twenty years ago when there was very little digital dentistry – it was very different. The forward thinking dentists of today are receptive to innovative proposals and new technology and new materials from the lab,’ he explains. ‘Every dentist now has a digital camera and email so within seconds you have a picture of a patient on your PC. We’re working on videos at the moment. Some surgeons send videos so patients talk, laugh and be natural so you see a lot more of their smiles. Sometimes patients don’t like to smile if they don’t like their teeth. On a video you can freeze the pictures and see their smile from a different perspective. It’s new way of working,’ he says. And what are the future aims for Mark? ‘When I retire I want to leave a thriving and successful business,’ he answers. ‘We are a service to dentists, but we are still a business and we have to return a profit otherwise there is no point doing it. For the dental technology industry, digital technology is moving at a phenomenal rate. We all need to move with the times. It’s very exciting going forward.’

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