SPECIAL REPORT: DPR takes an in-depth look at 3M ESPE's release, Filtek Supreme Ultra

June 10, 2013

Dr. Grant Chyz always found it troubling when he had to choose between strength and esthetics. It bothered him to know he either had to use a composite that looked good but didn’t hold up, or a product that offered the strength he wanted but not the esthetics. He always thought his patients deserved both.

Dr. Grant Chyz always found it troubling when he had to choose between strength and esthetics.

It bothered him to know he either had to use a composite that looked good but didn’t hold up, or a product that offered the strength he wanted but not the esthetics. He always thought his patients deserved both.

About 10 years ago, he was given the opportunity to help make that possible. That’s when he first learned about what nanofiller technology could do for composites. In 2000, 3M ESPE introduced these possibilities to a select group of cosmetic experts that included Dr. Chyz. These opinion leaders offered their expertise to help take the chemistry researchers created in the 3M labs and use it to develop a composite strong enough for the posterior yet beautiful and polishable enough for the anterior. 

From that effort came Filtek Supreme and later Filtek Supreme Plus. This month, 3M ESPE will launch the third generation, Filtek Supreme Ultra, at the Chicago Dental Society’s Midwinter Meeting. It will be available March 15.

Here, we take a look behind the scenes at what goes into a new product release, from the R&D phase to the launch.

How it all began

In the late 1990s, Corporate Scientist Sumita Mitra, PhD, and her team began conducting focus groups to find out what dentists wanted in direct composite filling materials. They learned dentists longed for a versatile direct composite filling material that had the long-term esthetics of a microfill combined with the strength and wear resistance of a micro-hybrid. Conventional filler technology couldn’t meet that need, Mitra said, which is why her team of researchers began looking at nanotechnology to design the appropriate fillers. 

The first of the Filtek family was launched in 2002, and the second generation-after another round of clinician feedback-in 2005. Over the years, Mitra and her team have learned how to precisely control the architecture of the nanofillers, she said, enabling them to improve this popular composite. 

“Nanotechnology is very special, especially the ‘nano cluster’ technology developed at 3M ESPE,” she said. “It is a patented technology. With continued research we have learned more about it and have been able to improve both the chemistry as well as the process for making the nanoclusters so we can get more optimized handling and better performance incorporating all the desired features.”

The improvements

When it came time to start talking about Filtek’s third generation, the opinion leaders saw three areas product developers could improve. They wanted better polish retention in the dentin, enamel and body opacity shades; an enhanced level of fluorescence to give restorations a more lifelike appearance; and improved handling for the translucent shades, said Jon Fundingsland, Professional Relations.

This feedback really defined Filtek Supreme Ultra, and doctors who have worked with the enhanced product seem happy with the results. Dr. Robert Margeas has used the product for about a year and said that while the improvements are small, they are significant. The composite is easier to use, especially with shade matching. An expanded selection of Body shades bring simplicity to placing single-shade restorations. The material doesn’t slump, isn’t sticky and the formulation for the incisal shades is much better.

Finding the right balance

While incorporating all these changes, developers had to make sure they didn’t lose the material’s core characteristics. They wanted to give clinicians a reason to make the upgrade, while at the same time keeping the trusted product familiar.

All the evidence gathered through clinician input and field evaluations show they’ve achieved that, Scientific Affairs Manager Rolf Halvorson said.

“We wanted to make sure the new product had the same or similar mechanical strength and wear resistance as the current composite and was easier to use while elevating the level of esthetics provided by direct restorative treatment,” Mitra added. “It should give clinicians the opportunity to provide a superior direct restorative treatment that has long-lasting esthetics."

Getting feedback

Researchers at 3M don’t just guess when it comes to improving already successful products. They spend a lot of time talking with clinicians about what they’d like to see in the next version. This starts with opinion leaders, but goes beyond that with field evaluations, Halvorson said.

On a global level, 3M sends the product to a few hundred doctors at least six months before its launch date. Doctors use the product and provide the research team with their observations and, in many cases, photography. About 90 percent of the doctors who tested Filtek Supreme Ultra liked it, and more than 25,000 placements were completed, Senior Technical Service Specialist Mary Doruff said.

Getting feedback before the product launch validates the product’s design and gives 3M a chance to make minor adjustments or modify messaging if necessary. Researchers continue to collect feedback after the product launch, Doruff said.

“Customer input really drives our product definition, and it’s customer input at the GP level and the opinion leader level,” Halvorson said. “Getting that input is built into our new product introduction process. It’s really part of our DNA. Before we even go into the lab and start designing something we are looking at the input from our customers.”

Who’s involved

Launching a new product doesn’t just involve the chemists and members of the R&D team; it takes many functions working together, including corporate. The dental division worked with 3M’s central research labs to develop Filtek, something Halvorson said was critical to incorporating the nanotechnology.

“You don’t necessarily have a lot of man power to put on the longer term projects, and it’s the longer term projects that are going to give you the significant advances, the big innovations,” Doruff said. “Working with divisions or groups outside dental allows a lot of that initial development work to take place. Then when it gets into the division you can work much harder on getting a commercialized product. It’s really advantageous.”

Telling you about it

You hear a lot of marketing hype about a lot of products, and that can make clinicians hesitant to try a new product. 3M’s trusted brand helps the company overcome that, Marketing and Professional Relations Operations Manager Keith Haig said. Many dentists know the name, and it doesn’t hurt to have opinion leaders talking about its benefits.

Even when clinicians trust a brand, they need to feel comfortable before they switch to a new product. To help clinicians reach that level of comfort with the latest Filtek release, the marketing team developed a micro site, everyonehasashade.com, with everything clinicians need to know about the composite, said Nikki McKeon, U.S. Marketing and Communications Manager. All the information is in one place, and clinicians can choose how they want to receive it, whether it’s watching videos, reading testimonials or sharing with colleagues. 

How it all fits in

3M’s brand is built on inventing valuable, meaningful dental products, Haig said, and the Filtek line of products definitely fits into that category. The new offering builds on a successful portfolio base, and aligns with 3M ESPE’s vision to “Shape the Future of Oral Care.” 

“We would like the dental professional to view us as a trusted partner in their journey, during this transformational time in dentistry, to provide improved oral care to their patients,” Haig said.
In the end, that’s what it comes down to: the patients. 

“Having fillings or restorations that look natural lets patients go about their lives feeling confident about the way they look,” Dr. Chyz said. “Our dentistry should be just as undetectable for dark teeth as for light teeth. Having a composite that holds up to occlusal forces as well as maintain a natural enamel shine from recall to recall is a big deal.”

Making the switch

Whether you already use a Filtek product or you’re thinking about trying it, Dr. Chyz recommends making the leap. It comes from a company he trusts, which is partly why he was willing to help with its development. Beyond that, he wanted a better product for his practice, his colleagues and his patients.

“The differences in the new product are small, but they are noticeable,” he said. “I really like it more than the old one. And I loved the old one."