by Chelsea Knorr, Editor, Dentaltown Magazine
Glidewell Laboratories has remained near its original
roots. Headquartered in Irvine, California, the company
employs nearly 3,600 professionals, keeping many of its
supply chain requirements in-house. Herein, we talk with
Jim Glidewell, founder, president and CEO of Glidewell
Laboratories about what’s happening inside the walls of
this cutting-edge lab.
I think most dentists are familiar with Glidewell
Laboratories, but few are familiar with how it all
began. Can you tell us how you got your start?
Glidewell: I started in the Navy right out of high school,
serving in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War as a
boatswain’s mate. At 21, I returned to the states and found work
selling Prudential and New York Life insurance door to door in
Las Vegas. It was then that I ran into an old high school friend,
Rex Frehner, who first gave me a glimpse into the dental industry.
Frehner ran a dental lab and paid his bill for the year, rather
than by the month. Inspired by his success, my wife and I packed up our Volkswagen and headed
West for the dental technology program
at UCLA. Unfortunately, we arrived in
California only to learn that UCLA had shuttered the program.
So I headed south to Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa,
where they were starting up a new dental technology program.
I graduated in 1969, initially finding work in a dental office—
giving me firsthand experience in how a technician’s efforts
directly affect the doctor’s chairtime. When that doctor
abruptly closed up shop, I decided it was time to strike out on
my own. In 1970, Glidewell Laboratories was born, with the
simple goal of crafting high quality dental restorations at competitive
Glidewell is known to be a proponent of advanced technology,
and of CAD/CAM dentistry in particular. What
have you seen in terms of development on that front?
Glidewell: Well, first of all, Townies are definitely the most
progressive in this CAD/CAM digital arena. However, our
commitment to technology stems from our continued desire to
increase the quality of our restorations while also lowering costs.
This will help dentists to treat even more patients
and enhance the value of their practices while
also helping more patients afford treatment.
CAD/CAM has proven to be extremely rewarding
in that regard. When I visited with
Dentaltown back in 2010, I mentioned that
more than 45 percent of our entire fixed crownand-
bridge production was utilizing some form
of CAD/CAM. Today, that percentage has
climbed to more than 90 percent. That, to me,
speaks volumes as to the demand for
these digitally produced restorations
– or doctors wouldn’t be
requesting them in such record numbers.
As we’ve seen from the beginning,
the accuracy and precision of
computers really is superior to that of
traditional techniques, enabling our
technicians to design contacts, margins
and occlusion within a factor of
mere microns – and to do so consistently,
with processes that minimize
exposure to human error. In the end,
doctors get a better-fitting crown
with little to no chairside adjustment.
Are there other ways in which you see
digital technology impacting dentistry?
Glidewell: In addition to the desktop digital
scanners we use to capture stone models in a virtual
environment for CAD processes, the speed,
accuracy and convenience of intraoral scanners
continues to improve, offering doctors a real
alternative to elastomeric impressions. From a
digital scan of the oral environment, sent and received directly
from a chairside scanner, we can design and mill the restoration
within hours, vastly improving turnaround time and further
reducing the costs involved. If a physical model is desired, we can
produce one using advanced 3D printers such as our Objet
Eden500V by Stratasys. Our Perfactory 3D printer from
EnvisionTEC allows us to create highly precise wax patterns at a
fraction of the time required for a hand wax-up.
What’s it like to work at Glidewell?
Glidewell: I believe in creating longterm
professional growth opportunities for
everyone who joins us. A large number of
employees have been with me for decades.
By empowering individual growth, the
company cannot help but follow. Wherever
possible, we promote from within, recognizing
the best and the brightest – the
most initiated – and put them in positions
that help to elevate those around
them. At the same time, when looking to
implement new technologies or processes, we’re not afraid to go
out and recruit folks who are recognized for their expertise in
those fields. We certainly wouldn’t want to become nearsighted,
because remaining open-minded and adaptable is key
Take us through the process of implementing a new
technology at Glidewell.
Glidewell: It starts with recognizing a deficiency or need
within the industry. With our BruxZir Solid Zirconia, for example,
it was acknowledging demand for an aesthetic alternative to
cast gold restorations – one that would withstand the rigors of
functioning in the posterior without chipping or cracking. Or
consider our Inclusive Custom Abutments or the Inclusive
Tooth Replacement System, each of which resulted in part from
the many horror stories we hear from restorative doctors – and
see firsthand in our implant laboratory – about cases in which a
dental implant is placed with respect to the available bone, but
with little regard to the angle of the tooth it’s meant to support.
Given the time and expense of undergoing implant placement,
we feel patients and restorative doctors deserve the satisfaction
of an acceptable aesthetic result – complete with natural soft tissue
contours – which can be difficult to achieve using conventional
components or traditional protocols.
Once a need is identified, we set about through research and
development to determine how to address a prospective solution.
If this means augmenting our own materials sciences division, as in
the case of BruxZir, we do it. If it means assembling an experienced
team of engineers and machinists from the implant manufacturing
industry, and then pairing them with respected clinicians and
implant laboratory technicians to design a better abutment, or an
all-in-one treatment protocol for a missing tooth, we make that
investment. The adage that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90
percent perspiration seems to work for us. We simply look at the
status quo, imagine how it can be improved from either a quality
or efficiency standpoint, and then do what we must to build a better
solution. After that, we continue to follow up with validation
and performance studies, both independent and in-house. We’re
looking forward to a new four-year TRAC Research clinical study
from Clinicians Report on BruxZir restorations, which to date
have shown flawless performance. Meanwhile, a two-year clinical
recall study of our Inclusive
Tapered Implants revealed a
success rate of 97.6 percent.
You mention dental implants, a sector in which Glidewell has
become well established. Can you tell us about your experience in that regard?
Glidewell: Roughly 20 years ago, in 1993, we actually took a
step back from the restoration of dental implants due to limiting
technological factors within the industry. The complexity and
confusion that prevailed at the time too often resulted in unpredictable
or compromised outcomes. Patients were unsatisfied, and
doctors were losing money. Rather than take part in what we felt
was a substandard level of care, we waited more than a decade for
the implant industry to further develop its understanding of bone
biology, grafting techniques, implant surface treatments and surgical
protocols to the point where implant therapy had increased
its viability as a widespread treatment option. Once we recognized
this, we cautiously set about rebuilding our implant department,
taking our time to make sure we did not promise something we
couldn’t deliver. Despite our slow, deliberate approach, the
department flourished. With renewed confidence, we hired Greg
Minzenmayer, former director of marketing for Nobel Biocare, to
spearhead our continued development.
Fast forward to today, and we are restoring a lot of implant
cases. This gives us tremendous visibility into the industry –
both its successes and its needs. The demand for our Inclusive
Custom Abutments continues to grow at a feverish pace. To
these we’ve added Inclusive CAD/CAM Milled Bars to support
and strengthen implant overdentures. Beyond that, we’ve
established an ISO-certified (International Organization for
Standardization) manufacturing facility to produce Inclusive
Tapered Implants, Inclusive Mini Implants and Inclusive
Prosthetic Components compatible with most major implant
brands – providing clinicians and labs single-source availability
and uniform pricing on implant components regardless of system.
Unfortunately, we hear that many implant companies
threaten to void the warranties of their fixtures for those doctors
who choose to use custom or aftermarket restorative components.
But we believe doctors shouldn’t be limited in choosing the best solution for the patient. So we not
only guarantee all of our abutments and
restorations, we’ll even replace any manufacturer’s
implant with one of ours.
What are some of the ways Glidewell
extends beyond the lab setting?
Glidewell: Our extensive research,
advancement of material sciences and manufacturing
capabilities might seem to set us
apart, but at the end of the day, everything
we do here is still firmly rooted in the dental
laboratory services designed to help dentists
in providing a better restoration. From the
digital treatment planning of implant cases to
delivery of the final restoration, we’re looking to streamline
processes and improve chairside efficiency with predictable, repeatable
outcomes. And we’re not alone in this. From the beginning,
we’ve been resolved to share what we learn with clinicians and fellow
labs, be it through direct partnerships or through our many free
or low-cost educational resources. We film weekly episodes of
“Chairside Live,” a show that tracks news stories in the dental
world and features a case of the week from our lab, used to highlight
tips and techniques that we hope viewers may find useful. Last
year, we opened the Glidewell International Technology Center, a
state-of-the-art education facility and full-service operatory, so that
we can provide ADA-CERP and AGD accredited lectures and
hands-on training programs for clinicians looking to expand their
treatment services. The more we can share of what we’ve learned,
the more patients and their service providers benefit.
Glidewell has its sights set high. What’s on deck?
Glidewell: We certainly don’t mean to rest on our laurels. In
addition to the release of improved materials like BruxZir
Shaded 16, we continue to invest considerable effort in simplified,
fully integrated dental solutions. One example would be
our family of Inclusive Tooth Replacement System packages for
both partially and fully edentulous cases. We want to help specialists
grow their referral bases with restorative-friendly protocols,
and for more general dentists to expand their practices by
adding implant placement to their list of services. Following in
our mission to make implant therapy more convenient, more
predictable and more affordable, we intend to introduce a
guided surgery kit for our Inclusive Tapered Implant System,
enabling clinicians to place implants with even greater confidence
and efficiency. Another new service, the BruxZir Solid
Zirconia Full-Arch Implant Prosthesis, is drawing attention as
perhaps the toughest implant-supported restoration to date. It is
completely monolithic—no acrylic, no porcelain veneering.
And we remain heavily invested in nano-zirconia technology,
which has enabled us to constantly improve the strength and
translucency of our BruxZir zirconia and other materials that
dentists and patients are asking for.
Townies love being involved in
the research and development
of products and equipment.
How do you involve dentists in
this early stage?
Glidewell: Our most direct
involvement with dentists is still
through the cases they entrust to us.
Our customer service representatives
are vigilant in addressing any difficulties,
and in seeking evaluation of our
services. We also invite clinicians to
tour our facilities, subscribe to our
magazines, or attend lectures or courses
with us in order to better gauge what
we do and how we go about it. We attend the Townie Meeting
along with numerous conventions throughout the year, and, yes,
rely greatly on community forums like Dentaltown. Dentaltown
does an outstanding job of keeping a finger on the pulse of the
industry, helping us to keep abreast of needs and trends. The
reverse is also true, as it provides a trusted communication channel
through which to further the adoption of positive advancements.
To believe that what we’ve done before is all that is
required of us moving forward would be a disservice to our dentists
and their patients. Townies are there to tell us just how we
A dentist’s communication with his lab is essential.
How do you ensure clear communication lines stay
open and top of mind?
Glidewell: In addition to the tireless efforts of our customer
service reps and technical advisors, we provide a direct online
portal for doctors through a personalized “My Account” feature
on our website. This enables us to document the status of cases
in progress, complete with photos, so that the doctor is never
left in the dark. Beyond that, we’re constantly looking for new
means of improving both the accuracy and efficiency of communications.
For example, the custom impression coping available
with the Inclusive Tooth Replacement System is designed to
capture patient-specific soft-tissue contours so that the technician
isn’t left to guess where the margin lies around an implant
site. In some respects, the best conversation a dentist can have
with his laboratory is the one that never has to take place, leaving
him more time to spend elsewhere.
What are you most proud of at Glidewell?
Glidewell: When all is said and done, I want the legacy of
Glidewell Laboratories to mirror my goal when setting forth:
to make quality dentistry more affordable for dentists and to
help bring more patients into good oral health. We seem to be
doing that, and in growing the careers of our customers, partners
and dedicated employees in the process. I couldn’t ask for