David Lesh and Dale Dental

by Dave on September 14, 2009

This is the first of what I expect will be many blogs coming either from myself or the company I started, Dale Dental. With that in mind, I thought a brief introduction to each would be helpful going forward.

I started Dale as the first dental laboratory exclusively for other labs in January 2000. I did it because I grew up in the dental lab industry and, since the time I was five, watched my dad work in his lab. As a second-generation lab owner, I watched my dad start the lab in the basement of our house. He worked long hours and I typically started every day and ended every day going down the basement to say good morning or goodnight.

I can still remember walking to Johnson & Johnson’s warehouse around the corner from our home to pick up Ceramco porcelain – that was before Dentsply bought the line from them. I also vividly remember going on pickups and deliveries and listening to my dad discuss dentistry and other issues with the dentists that used his lab.

The name of the lab was, and still is, Manalapan Dental Lab – started in Manalapan (of course), NJ. I was very proud of what my dad did and was impressed when he moved the lab to its first out-of-the-house location in Freehold, NJ. I would spend a lot of time there, watching my dad making all sorts of crowns, bridges, etc., not to mention running the business. My dad must of grew the lab to about eight people or more before again moving to Marlboro, NJ. There is where I started officially working for him after school, and then during college.

After college I began working there full time. I learned and did practically everything from deliveries, to models, to crown and bridge and ceramics. Ceramics was where I found my home for the next eight years.  My dad was, and still is, a high-quality guy in every way. He taught me the fine art of ceramic build ups that would take a few extra minutes to build up, and then slide in with almost no adjustments – right out of the oven. A little touch up, stain, glaze and polish and it was done.

I got to be very proficient and began helping manage the lab as well. Here’s where the Dale Dental part comes in.  I remember getting a call from a dentist we were working for (this is around 1989) and he wanted to do an Empress crown. Since we did not do Empress, and I was helping manage, I thought it would be a great idea to find someone to do it for us. I contacted Ivoclar and found a lab (there were only about 75 at the time) to do Empress for us.

The docs cases would come in and I would ship the impressions out to this other lab. The cases would come back completely finished and I would just repackage and send it out to my doc. It seemed it would all go according to plan until I started getting some cases back late, or couldn’t get the support I needed or questions answered. Each one of these problems lead to me having the same problems with our doctor who did not even know I was sending the work out to someone else.

That’s when the light went off in my head. What if I could start a lab that only worked for other labs? This way, their work, their questions and any other needs they had would be our top priority. This way, and since I did not work with dentists, lab customers would not mind telling their dentist they were outsourcing to us.

Brilliant. But then it hit me. 1) There were only maybe two technologies or restorations labs could not do themselves, Empress and InCeram. 2) I was about 20 years old, and was not in any position to start a business and 3) I just did not think the industry was totally ready for the concept.

Fast forward to around 1998 when I applied for a job at Northshore Dental Lab in Lynn, MA. I wanted to move there because the girl I fell in love with was going to school there. I applied for a ceramist position the owner was looking to fill at Northshore. I packed my car for the drive from NJ to Boston and, almost as an afterthought, threw in a portfolio I created for a medical marketing and advertising company I had started called Dentactics – another story for another blog.

Upon arriving for the interview I brought in my ceramist brushes and Dentactics portfolio. After showing the boss the portfolio, I never made it to the bench. He hired me as the company’s first head of sales and marketing. Wow! What a big celebration that called for.

One of the first things I saw at Northshore was Procera. Northshore was the first lab in the US to have the system as they were Nobels largest US lab customer at the time. I remembered thinking to myself how well this system would one day fit into my great lab idea. It was fairly expensive at the time and created only a coping. That meant the lab could still do their own model work and ceramics – thus the lab customer that outsourced to us could maintain the fit, function and esthetics their doctors have become used to through their lab.

Fast forward again to late 1999, when I got engaged and moved to Texas. I was still working for Northshore, but shortly resigned to start Dale Dental which officially opened in January 2000. We opened with three products; Procera, Empress and Electroforming. Most importantly, we opened as the world’s first dental lab exclusively for other dental labs. That meant not having any dentist customers.

Today, as 2009 comes to a close, we have worked with over 3,000 dental lab customers throughout the United States. Our product line has grown from the original three products to close to 20. We have also enjoyed sharing numerous firsts with the industry including our 2005 ISO 9001:2000 certification, design and creating of the world’s first web-based software program for medical device manufacture, an online case entry and customer case portal, launch of Dale crown reward points, Coral Optical Zirconia, exclusive distributorship of Nobel BioCare Procera BioCad bars, and now…the just announced distributorship of the new Compartis ISUS bars and bridges by Dentsply.

But, while introducing new products and working with more customers is always great, truly nothing can happen without a great team. The experience of our ten years has helped us created one of the greatest teams the industry has ever known.  Customer service, technical support, product manufacturing, shipping, management and admin all understand the vital role they play in contributing to your ability to be successful with your doctors. I know they’re great, not just because I say it, but because of the countless compliments I get every year wherever I go. As the founder, I think about my dad and his lab every time I talk to another lab owner. I understand the ups and downs of what our customers go through and so does our team.  I know that spirit is reflected in everything every one of us here at Dale does. It’s been a great ten years and I look forward to keeping the world of dentistry in the loop with Dale and everything we do through regular blog updates, travels, speaking and more.

David Lesh, CDT
President, Dale Dental

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gaetano Jauregui May 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Hi David,
I just had the pleasure of watching the video interview you did for national lab network in 2006( I just bought the series). Anyhow, I found it refreshing and motivating to see someone have a sharp business mind in our field. I have a small crown and bridge lab in Bend Oregon that I started about 3 years ago. I have a passion for business as well as dental technology and am learning many things. Reading your personal testimony of how you got started was great! Thank you for that. I don’t know if you will ever get this message but if you do, please feel free to check out my website and drop me an email. I would love to chat with you sometime. Thanks and all the best wishes to you, your family, and your business!

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