Having an In-House Lab Benefits Patients

April 26, 2024 Stephen Malone DMD

Stephen Malone, DMD 

Our Knoxville, Tennessee, dental practice has grown to where we now have four dentists, as well as four hygienists, six dental assistants, two patient coordinators, a practice manager with two front-office patient care specialists, and one more primary partner in our dental practice—Bob Cutshaw. Bob is a master lab technician with over 40 years of experience and owner of Cutshaw Labs. He has been a partner in care with me for nearly 25 years and collaborates with our doctors on all dental restorations requiring lab work. 

Recently, I was thinking again about how grateful I am for my association with Bob and for the many benefits of having his lab located downstairs within our practice facility. Perhaps, having a lab in-house is something other dentists might aspire to eventually have in their own private practice. 

Bob is involved in care planning just as much as I and the other dentists. We can sit side by side to collaborate on treatment using a combination of digital 3D modeling and analog articulated models and wax-ups. 

For patients with complex needs, he routinely comes into the operatory or the consultation room to meet with patients. As he explains his involvement in their care and how the highest quality materials and latest techniques will be used, they become fascinated in the laboratory methods and technologies. Some request a tour of the lab and want to watch some of the process. 

We use digital designs for all prosthetics. Bob’s professional-grade 3D printers work all day long for predictable, efficient fabrication of custom restorations. Then he hand-paints and glazes the crowns and prosthetics for optimal natural aesthetics. Because he is involved in planning our most complex cases that involve implant supported hybrid denture, he is deeply invested in the details that allow the finished product to be delivered with ease. 

Having his lab in-house allows us to rapidly fix issues that arise, for example, alterations to a restoration when it doesn’t quite fit right or has a slightly incorrect shade. Instead of waiting for days or weeks to deliver back and forth a restoration to an outside lab, we make the changes here on the same day. 

For Patients undergoing clear aligner treatment, we manufacture our clear aligners in-house. If a patient loses or damages a tray, it is immediately replaced so the patient doesn’t lose precious time in treatment. The same goes for our occlusal splints, night guards, sports mouth guards, and Essix retainers. 

One of the branding traits of our practice that has earned us our high reputation is the in-house laboratory. Without a doubt, having this lab just downstairs is a major way in which we enhance the quality of care we provide to our patients. 

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Stephen Malone DMD

Dr. Stephen Malone received his Doctorate of Dental Medicine Degree from the University of Louisville in 1994 and has practiced dentistry in Knoxville for nearly 20 years. He participates in multiple dental study clubs and professional organizations, where he has taken a leadership role. Among the continuing education programs he has attended, The Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education is noteworthy. He was the youngest dentist to earn the status of Pankey Scholar at this world-renowned post-doctoral educational institution, and he is now a member of its Visiting Faculty.

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Dental Photography Part 2: Deciding Between Saving Images as JPEG or RAW 

March 20, 2024 Charlie Ward, DDS

Charlie Ward, DDS

In this article, I’ll share how I save my Dental DSLR photos and choose between the file formats of RAW versus JPEG. There are specific reasons why we might need one format or the other, or perhaps both. I’ll also share how I store and protect my ever-growing collection of images. 

The Difference Between RAW and JPEG Format 

We have a choice when we’re shooting with our DSLR about how we want to save our files. On the menu of our camera, we see that we can choose between RAW and JPEG, and the quality of JPEG. When RAW is selected, all data that hits the camera sensor is saved. A JPEG is a processed image resulting in a compressed (smaller) file size.  

The data stored in RAW images can be 3 to 4 times more than in JPEG images, depending on the quality of JPEG you select on the camera menu. The processor in your DSLR camera will remove data from a JPEG image that it perceives to be imperceptible to the human eye. The greatly smaller size of JPEGS makes them universally preferred, not only for storage but for quick upload, download, and opening for viewing online. I routinely shoot high-quality JPEGs for diagnostics and routine lab communication.  

(If you are wondering what JPEG stands for, it’s for Joint Photographic Experts Group. Once JPEG images are in your computer, they can be saved as different file formats ending in different extensions such as .eps, .pdf, .jpg, .jpeg, .bmp, .tif, and .tiff.) 

If I take an image in both RAW and JPEG format, at first glance, the JPEG and RAW images may look the same, but on closer inspection, I may see that the stain on a tooth’s enamel or surrounding skin tones appear lighter in the RAW image. The camera itself has processed the image and determined that some of that data is unnecessary.  

When to Shoot RAW Images 

For most of what dentists do with our DSLR cameras, JPEGS are fine. There are three situations when we should choose to shoot RAW images. 

  1. When we want to edit images like a professional photographer. 
  1. When we shoot images for accreditation for the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. The Academy requires images in raw format so they can tell that the images have not been edited.  
  1. When we are using a digital shade matching system like eLab or Matisse that requires RAW input. 

Why Shoot Both Versions When You Want RAW 

If you are storing CBCT and RAW images on your server, a lot of data can accumulate quickly. I shoot JPEG versions of the images I shoot in RAW format so I can delete the RAW files from my server when they are no longer needed and still have a case record with the JPEG files. 

Storage Tip: In my practice, we download the patient’s or the day’s images from the SD card on to our server in a patient folder. We have one main folder and within it a subfolder for each letter of the alphabet. Inside each alphabet letter’s folder is another subfolder labeled with the patient’s name for each patient whose last name begins with that alphabet letter. Inside each patient’s folder are appropriate subfolders, labeled for example, “Name-Prep-Date.” 

 

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Dental Photography Part 1: What Photography Equipment Should I Buy? 

March 15, 2024 Charlie Ward, DDS

Charlie Ward, DDS  

Whether you want to use a digital SLR camera for documentation, patient education, lab communication, making presentations at dental events, dental publications, or accreditation in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, you have choices to consider in multiple price ranges.  

Dentists can spend $1,800 and get a good system for documenting cases, patient education and lab communication. Dentists can easily spend $3,800 or more on a setup to equip themselves to take higher quality images. 

Camera Body: Most dentists shoot with a Nikon or Cannon DSLR camera. These are comparable brands. My experience is with Canon but my lab technician uses Nikon and gets wonderful results. I am shooting with the Canon EOS 90D. The comparable Nikon is the D7500. More entry-level models are the Nikon 3500 and the Canon Rebel T8i. 

Lenses: We can get a third-party Sigma 105mm or a Tokina 105mm lens that gives us decent quality, or we can purchase the Canon 100mm or Nikon 105mm version at twice the price. When I upgraded to the finer Canon lens, I noticed a huge difference in image quality. I recommend an upgraded lens for the highest-quality images you need for accreditation. 

Flashes: The ring flash is a great entry-level option and significantly less expensive but there are limitations to what you can do to control your light. I’ve been using a dual point flash for some time. I can pull a flash off and shoot from a different angle. By changing where the light is coming from, I can accentuate the angle lines for more depth and visual clarity.  

Sometimes, I’ll take one of my flashes off, hold it on the opposite side of what I am shooting, and shoot the flash back into the lens of the camera. When I do this, I get an ethereal-appearing image or an image with a white background. I appreciate the versatility of using the dual point system.  

For my best-looking images and portraits, I’ll use softboxes. This gives smoother, more diffuse light and a beautiful appearance. These are necessary for everyday dentistry but make a huge difference in showcasing aesthetic cases.  

 

Consider the Long Term: When dentists invest in cameras and lenses, they typically use them for a long time. If you are on the fence about how much you want to invest, my own experience might be helpful. I honestly wish that I had upgraded sooner than I did with the Canon EOS 90D and the Canon 100mm lens. After taking photos for 12 years, the upgraded equipment has only increased the joy I have for photography and pushed me to take more pictures! 

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