Podcast, pizza and real talk with Elvis Dahl
From pizza restaurant manager to podcast host, Elvis Dahl’s had an unusual career arc. The Indiana-based lab tech says his different jobs have taught him a few key lessons: always stay consistent with the product you’re making and connected to the community around you. Elvis and his cohost Barbara Warner release the weekly podcast “Voices from the Bench,” a beloved resource for those in the lab industry. Elvis joined us to talk about his views on the current state of the dental lab industry and what he’s hearing from guests and listeners. We’re also very excited to have Elvis joining us as a moderator at Insights 2024 in Mallorca, Spain.
Q: Elvis, so nice you’re here! Tell us about how you got into the dental industry.
A: How I got into it really is almost accidental. In 2008, I was managing a Grateful Dead-inspired pizza restaurant called “Mellow Mushroom.” I decided to move over to a job at another pizza restaurant. That didn’t work out as I expected. So, after a few twists and turns, I found a position as a packer and shipper in a dental lab. I didn't even know what a packer was, but they brought me in and taught me that whole process.
Q: What was that process like? Getting to know life in a lab?
A: I absolutely fell in love with what it was—the processes, and especially the people. The technicians that we had at this lab were just some great people who were happy to answer my annoying, dumb questions. Luckily, somebody quit in their scheduling department, and they offered me a position to move up. Now I saw the work coming in, and that's when I started getting on phones and talking to offices and doctors. I really took to implants and dental attachments, which was kind of always a hard grasp for a lot of technicians. Over the years, I just worked my way up. Eventually, they made me the director of operations.
Q: How did you start connecting with the larger dental lab community?
A: Luckily, one of the owners at the lab I started at was very involved in the industry, and he really encouraged me to see the industry outside of just the lab. He encouraged me to get involved with the National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) and took me to some shows. Seeing beyond the lab is when everything exploded for me, and I discovered this wonderful community.
"Labs have collectively come together in the last years to be a resource to each other officially and non-officially."
Q: What is it about the dental lab community that you like so much?
A: In the past, information wasn't shared as much in the industry. People talk about this on the podcast a lot. At some point that shifted. I remember the first NADL Vision 21 meeting I went to in Las Vegas. I'm standing in a room with all these people who own labs. When I would ask them a question, they would always answer it no matter how high up they were in the business. I ask people in other industries, and this is really unique to labs. Labs have collectively come together in the last years to be a resource to each other officially and non-officially.
Q: That brings us to the podcast, right? Sharing information. Tell me how “Voices from the Bench” got its start.
A: While I was at my original lab as director of operations, one of the tasks I took on was doing sales and going out to offices. I decided to spend my time listening to dentist podcasts to understand their jobs better. There are a ton of podcasts for dentists. I heard one that interviewed a guy named Mark Jackson. He was a huge lab owner. And it was just basically, "Hey, what's going on in the dental lab business? What's new?" That episode really made me wonder why we were not doing one for ourselves.
I was on the NADL board with Barb. At Chicago Lab Day in 2018, I said to her, “I want to start a podcast for our industry. Do you want to cohost?” Barb looks at me and says, “Uh, what's a podcast?” But she's like, “Yeah, whatever. I'm game.”
I always want to have a positive output in the industry. We're going to talk about negative things, but it's always got to contribute to a positive outcome.
Q: What were your goals for the podcast?
A: When I started the podcast, I kept two things in mind. I always want to have a positive output in the industry. We're going to talk about negative things, but it's always got to contribute to a positive outcome. The second thing, and this is something I learned at the pizza restaurants and the dental lab, is consistency. No matter what's going on in our lives, in 287 weeks straight, we've never missed releasing an episode. Through sickness, vacations, pandemics, rain, and wind, we’ve released new episodes.
Q: What are the big topics for your lab audience?
A: We do episodes with big names in the industry and also with smaller operators because we want to capture everybody. Overall, I'd say the biggest things people talk about is just finding good employees. There's also a lot of talk about the move to digital, which in my eyes, the move's already done.
Q: Let’s talk about that. What are people saying about digital?
A: There are a lot of people who are either struggling with it, resistant to it, or they're all in. I think the next thing is: How are labs going to position themselves as more doctors are doing things chairside? That's going to allow them to do what we do, and it's going to hurt, but we just got to position ourselves. I think doing single posterior molars will not be a thing soon. Especially once they get printed final restorations.
I think the best thing labs can do to demonstrate that they’re still relevant right now, and it's actually the role I have, is to be a chairside resource for when it’s needed.
Q: How do labs position themselves as more dentists adopt chairside digital workflows?
A: I think the best thing labs can do to demonstrate they’re still relevant right now, and it's actually the role I have, is to be a chairside resource for when it’s needed. I go into a lot of offices if they're struggling with a denture setup, or they got a full arch, or they want to get into digital. If a lab shows up and shows dentists how to do it, you'll earn that business.
Q: What feedback do you get on exocad in the podcast?
A: exocad comes up a lot. Most people, when they get into it, they love it. I hear from a lot of people that exocad is more open and allows you to do more.
Q: Any final advice?
A: Hang around those people in the lab industry who you look up to. Ask them questions. They will absolutely, 100% help.
Q: What's your passion outside of the lab?
A: Doing the podcast, and I love running.
Q: Do you have a favorite tooth?
A: Any posterior covered in gold.
Q: If you could travel anywhere for a day, where would you go?
A: Anywhere off planet.
Since 2018, Voices from the Bench: A Dental Laboratory Podcast has been connecting with hundreds of people in the dental lab industry. Created by Elvis Dahl from Derby Dental Laboratory along with co-host Barbara Warner from Knight Dental Group in Oldsmar, FL. Every Monday morning a new episode drops featuring an interview with someone related to the dental lab. They talk to technicians, lab owners, vendors, inventors, leaders, speakers, and some just for fun. You can find Voices From the Bench anywhere you listen to podcasts or at voicesfromthebench.com. Be sure to follow VFTB on Facebook and Instagram.