Skip to main content

The R&E Tax Credit Rewards the Dental Laboratory Industry for Being Innovative

Adam J. Herman

March 02, 2020

About the R&E Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981 by the Economic Recovery Tax Act, the Credit for Increasing Research Activities [also known as the Research & Experimentation (R&E) or Research & Development (R&D) tax credit] rewards companies for the development or improvement of products, processes, techniques, formulas, inventions, or software applications.

The R&E tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar credit against the taxpayer’s federal income tax liability. Taxpayers may benefit from both the deduction in the year the expenditure is paid or incurred and by claiming the research tax credit.

Further, with the passage of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (“PATH Act”), which made the R&E tax credit permanent, dental laboratories will be able to utilize their credits faster. The PATH Act allows eligible small businesses, defined as companies with average gross receipts of less than $50 million, to offset both regular and alternative minimum tax (AMT) liabilities in tax years beginning in 2016 and thereafter. Further, certain start-up companies, defined as qualified small businesses, are now able to offset the employer’s portion of FICA payroll tax liabilities with research credits generated in tax years beginning in 2016 and thereafter. These two provisions have significantly expanded the number of companies able to monetize R&E tax credits.

In addition, approximately 35 states also have incentives for research and development, typically based upon the federal definition of research. The various state R&E tax incentives range from 1 to 24 percent of the eligible research expenditures, with some states requiring taxable income as a prerequisite for utilizing the credit and others refunding any unused credit to the taxpayer irrespective of the existence of taxable income. Each state has its own requirements, and state credits are only eligible for research conducted within each respective state.

We have found that dental labs consistently perform qualified research and development ac-tivities to further their business. This may include the development of new technologies or research of materials for new and improved restorations or appliances.

How can the credit benefit dental labs?

The credit is activity-based, and there are four basic requirements for an activity to qualify for the research tax credit. The following overview discusses the four requirements and how these activities apply to dental labs.

  1. Development or improvement of a business component. For an activity to qualify, taxpayers must be developing a new business component or improving an existing business component that is held for sale, lease, or license, or used by the tax-payer in its trade or business. Business components are defined as products, processes, techniques, formulas, inventions, or software applications. For dental labs, common business components include activities related to new and improved product development for crowns and bridges, dentures/partials, implants, opaques/porcelains, and new process and technique technology such as 3D printing of models.
  2. Eliminating uncertainty which is technological in nature. For an activity to qualify, the research must be undertaken for the purpose of eliminating technological uncertainty concerning the development or improvement of a business component. This uncertainty exists if the taxpayer is unsure about the capability, method or design of the business component. We have found that dental laboratories regularly rely upon the biological, chemical, computer sciences, and engineering disciplines to eliminate uncertainty related to the appropriate design of the above-listed business components.
  3. Qualified purpose of research. For a research activity to qualify, the research must relate to new or improved functionality, performance, reliability, or quality. We have found that dental labs evaluate and experiment with all four qualified purposes on a regular basis.
  4. Process of experimentation. For an activity to qualify, a taxpayer must eliminate technological uncertain-ty by engaging in a process of experimentation. A process of experimentation is an evaluative process and should be capable of evaluating more than one alternative. Treasury regulations define a process of experimentation as modeling, simulation, or systematic trial and error. This includes computer modeling, building prototypes, testing sample cases and experimenting with different tools and equipment. Activities that may qualify for dental labs include, but are not limited to:
  • Implementing and experimenting with new materials, techniques or equipment
  • Testing, evaluating or improving materials. For instance, if your laboratory is a Beta test site and you are not getting paid for your services, you may qualify.
  • Designing and developing complex implant systems for patients
  • Developing proprietary products such as sleep appliances, implant systems, etc.
  • Developing new techniques for patient comfort and reducing chairtime
  • Streamlining or improving production and manufacturing processes
  • Experimenting with 3D printing and scanning technology

Qualifying Expenditures

While there are numerous expenditures that meet the definition of research, only three types of expenditures are allowed in calculating the R&E tax credit. These include wages paid for qualified services, supplies used in the conduct of research, and contract research (payments to third parties).


The R&E tax credit is one of the most beneficial tax incentives that dental labs may utilize to reduce their income tax liabilities. Both quantitative and qualitative documentation is necessary to support these research credit claims, so dental labs are best served by creating and maintaining the proper documentation to support such claims.

Click here to view this article as featured in the Journal of Dental Technology.

Image of a person on a trail with the words "Bring your vision to life. Every business needs a plan—from taxes and financial reporting to increasing profit growth and what comes next." Click to see your path forward

Unlock industry secrets.

Mueller Prost insights, delivered right to your inbox.

Sign Up.

Related Insights