Refined manual skills are a prerequisite for digital fitness
His laboratory is one of the most technically advanced of its kind in Switzerland. He is passionate about precision. In this interview, the gifted dental technician Elias Bühler explains the role played by the Matterhorn in his career choice and why he does not take on all of the jobs he is offered.
Interview with Elias Bühler, Zurich, Switzerland
Figure 1: A bright and modern reception area with a small dental museum and a selection of professional journals greets the visitor on entering the premises of Bühler Dental Aesthetik GmbH in Zurich.
Mr Bühler, what makes dental lab technology such a fascinating field for you?
I love to be creative and work with my hands. Furthermore, I like to work independently and find new ways of doing things and solving tricky problems. I’m always up for a challenge.
Figure 2: This laboratory works in style: Programat furnaces on an esthetically pleasing, solid wooden work bench reflect the high quality of the ceramic firing results.
Was this also the reason why you chose to become a dental technician?
Yes, to a certain extent. When I visited a career expo in Zurich at the age of 15 I didn’t even know that this type of profession existed. At the dental technician booth I was allowed to mill out a copy of the Matterhorn and weld together two titanium plates. I immediately knew that this was the job for me!
You chose to become self-employed at 30 years of age. Was this a good idea?
Definitely. I started off by renting one work station. I didn’t have any customers of my own. Nevertheless, after only eight months I had to hire someone to help me. After three years I bought the laboratory from the previous owner. Right from the start, I knew that one day I would have my own lab.
What kind of services do you offer dentists and their patients?
The entire spectrum of dental lab services, with the exception of orthodontics.
What is your speciality?
Quality. I strive to do the best in everything I create, from straightforward provisionals to complex complete dentures. I believe that this is the secret of my success. I offer dentists full service solutions. I am very hands on and I like to suggest various options. However, this also means that I will return any inadequate documentation, as it would hinder me in producing outstanding results. I will go so far as to decline a job, if I believe the necessary background information is lacking.
Figure 3: Clean, well arranged, bright working areas offer excellent conditions for quality work processes.
How are you handling the increasing digitalization in your profession?
I immediately took to digital technologies. Nevertheless, I will not make use of a technique if I cannot obtain quality results. As long as digital solutions allow me to excel, I will use them with pleasure. I was one of the first people to make use of the PrograMill PM7, because I was extremely interested in the features of the machine. Furthermore, the machine’s design is very pleasing and matches my other equipment.
Figure 4: Lab owner Elias Bühler is fascinated by CAD/CAM milling. He was one of the first customers to use the PrograMill PM7.
How much of your work is done conventionally and how much using digital technology?
Ninety per cent of our work is done using conventional workflows – mainly because at the present time in Switzerland only about five per cent of our job orders come in a digital format. In five years, this may rise to 15 to 20 per cent. I believe that the transition to using intraoral scanners will still take some time.
Why are you still pressing restorations?
The press technique allows me to achieve high-precision results with tight margins even if the preparation is very complex. This is not always possible when you are milling. Moreover, the milling radius can limit you in creating an accurately fitting crown. Besides, as a dental technician I need to continuously hone my manual skills. I believe that refined manual skills are a prerequisite for digital fitness.
Figure 5: The time-tested conventional press technique is an established component of this digital laboratory. The restorations are pressed in the Programat EP3010.
Why did you choose to use the Programat EP3010 press furnace and the IPS e.max system?
Our choice was guided by two reasons. Firstly, I used the Programat furnaces in the old laboratory and I was very satisfied with them. Secondly, I like the way the furnaces are designed.
Since when have you been using the CAD/CAM milling technique?
We have been milling restorations in our laboratory for the past five years. Milling offers us consistent and reproducible results. We produce impression trays by using 3D printing technology. It is great fun and much faster than conventional methods.
Figure 6: CAD/CAM software, a computer mouse and a screen are starting to replace traditional wax knives and Bunsen burners. The digital age has arrived.
Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist?
Yes definitely. It gives me great pleasure to achieve the best possible results.
What is your secret to achieving exceptional quality?
With regard to accuracy of fit: I closely follow the instructions of the manufacturer in sintering my restorations. Furthermore, I mill very slowly and precisely. In our laboratory every work station is equipped with a microscope. This enables us to recognize and evaluate every single detail.
Figure 7: Every detail receives attention under the microscope. All the work stations are equipped with a microscope to ensure the highest quality standards.
Is this effort worthwhile?
Yes, dentists and their patients appreciate our precision. Due to my company philosophy I have had a lot of work since I started my business. Actually, we always seem to have too much work to accomplish.
Not good for your work-life balance …
No, not really. It could be much better for sure (smiles). I definitely lack enough leisure time. But my work gives me such pleasure. I have really developed a passion for all things digital. I enjoy mulling over this topic deep into the night. When I have some free time, I work on my model helicopter. This allows me to relax.
Figure 8: As a hobby, the laboratory owner Elias Bühler likes to build model helicopters, time permitting of course.
What is your outlook for dental lab technology in the next few years?
I think that the younger generation of dentists will work with dental technicians on a more equal footing. We will eventually become partners. Furthermore, patients are starting to come and see us in our laboratory, for example, to determine their tooth shade or adjust their restoration.