The dental lab expert – is casting dead?

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The dental lab expert – is casting dead? 1

Despite not offering it himself, Ashley Byrne explains why casting still has a place in some dental laboratories.

I’m a digital dental lab, so casting is dead…or is it?

When I set the lab up with my dad some 15 years ago, the shopping list was small with just four big ticket items; porcelain furnace, burnout furnace, an incredibly basic Procera scanner and of course a state-of-the-art casting machine.

We went all out and bought the best on the market for the casting machine. And 10 years later, I sold it for peanuts.

So, if I don’t have a casting machine, then surely casting is dead for us?

Casting versus milling

In my own lab, casting metal is mostly finished, but it’s complicated, like most things in dental technology.

I spent years and years pushing the limits of casting huge gold implant bars with a small mortgage worth of gold. I perfected it pretty nicely and a full arch would take me three days!

Yet now the concept of casting anything implant based seems highly inaccurate. Especially when we look at just how great milling is these days. The time factor is a fraction of casting and at a vastly reduced cost.

Milling of implant frameworks and abutments has now vastly overtaken anything cast. It does still surprise me that I see cast bridges and abutments made of gold when you can machine these to incredible levels of accuracy and fit in vastly better materials.

A high-end milled abutment in titanium is now less than £300. And yet a cast-able gold abutment UCLA sleeve starts at £300. And yet we still have to wax, invest, cast and add the gold alloy.

Having spoken to some of the implant companies, cast gold UCLAs are still sold in high numbers. But thankfully now they’re well on the decline.

Why not just cast?

I suppose when we think of casting today we all think to gold crowns. Even in my lab, we still make a lot of gold crowns and yet we don’t case any of them in house.

We pour the model or receive the intraoral scan and then we design a virtual gold crown. The file is then shipped off to a local supplier who mills or 3D prints the wax and then casts the crown in high gold content alloy.

You may ask: ‘Why not just cast that in house?’ And my simple answer is thats it’s messy, time consuming and costly. I don’t have to hold gold stock anymore and it frees my team up to do lots more exciting and enjoyable aspects of being a dental technician.

There are some things though that are just a bit too difficult and despite myself being a huge advocate of digital dentistry, casting offers us things that milling and 3D printing of metal just cant.

Precision attachments for example are getting better on CAD systems. But milling and 3D SLM printing – thats where casting still has a place. So how do I get around that?

Working as an industry

I have two options, we say we can’t do that or we pass onto other labs. And it’s the latter that works for me.

I send most of we weird and wonderful stuff down to Mark in Cornwall who carefully looks after all the casting for me. It comes back and we just have to veneer it. We get to support a small high end lab and we have a happy client and patient. But that’s without any investments or casting at the lab, a simple win-win situation.

So casting is dead in house at Byrnes. But it’s still very alive in a sub contracting basis to both other labs and outsource centres.

As our industry changes, its vital to keep all treatment options open. The only way we can do this is to work as an industry and not as individuals.

It’s simply not cost effective for us to do this in house. So working with trusted partners across the industry makes far more business sense for us.


Catch up with previous The Lab Expert columns:

  • How environmentally green can a dental lab be?
  • Lab owner stress and when to trust your team
  • Are automation and artificial intelligence a good thing?
  • Digital tooth grinding
  • Crisis and possible solutions to the lack of dental technicians.

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