Dental lab sector trends

Woman with brown hair in blue scrubs using dental equipment

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the dental laboratory sector

Dentists contract with individual dental laboratories for the supply of dental appliances. Dentists have for many years maintained that the NHS remuneration they receive is inadequate and as a result have looked for very competitive pricing from their dental laboratory suppliers. (Dental labs do not receive payment direct from the NHS but from the dental practice.) In many cases dental appliances are manufactured by laboratories in other countries, where costs are lower.

Many dentists have moved into private dentistry for which they can charge higher fees, spend more time with the patient and prescribe better quality appliances. This has helped dental labs as they can then compete on quality and service rather than on price, although dentists do still look for keen pricing and even the private sector saw a downturn in demand during the late 2000s and early 2010s because of the challenging economic conditions. Significant increases in the price of precious metals have also been a problem for dental labs, many of which find difficulty in passing these cost increases on.

Because the dental laboratory sector has been so competitive for such a long time margins are very slim, wages are low and there has been little investment in training. As a result the sector has faced skills shortages.

The Health and Social Care Act changed the way dentists in England and Wales are paid from April 2006. According to the Dental Laboratories Association (DLA) this resulted in a significant fall in demand for dental labs that carry out a lot of NHS work. Although a new NHS dental contract is being trialled it is not clear whether this will lead to more demand for dental labs in the future.

During 2006 the registration of dental technicians with the General Dental Council (GDC) began, and registration became compulsory in July 2008. You must not work as a dental technician unless you are registered with the GDC. You must undertake continuing professional development (CPD) to keep your skills up-to-date.

You will have to decide:

  • whether there will be enough dental practices to support your business
  • whether you will be able to produce good quality appliances cheaply enough to price competitively and still make a profit
  • whether the local patient base includes enough people who want private dental treatment so that you are not obliged to only undertake NHS work - which has suffered a significant decline
  • how you will keep dental practices loyal to your business

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry.

Dental laboratories are represented by the Dental Laboratories Association (DLA) which provides a comprehensive range of services and publications. The DLA also runs the British Bite Mark campaign which indicates that participating dental labs manufacture dental appliances in the UK, using GDC-registered technicians and approved materials. You can contact the DLA at 44 - 46 Wollaton Road, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 2NR.

The Dental Technologists Association (DTA) represents the interests of dental technicians and offers members a range of benefits, including special rates on indemnity insurance and a subscription to The Technologist journal.

The British Dental Industry Association (BDIA) represents businesses which supply products and services to the dental industry.

The General Dental Council (GDC) regulates dental professionals in the UK and is responsible for the registration and CPD of dental technicians.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show or exhibition for the dental sector. The annual Dental Technology show features demonstrations and workshops where you can find out about the latest dental technological developments. The Exhibitions website also contains details of trade shows of interest to you.

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