Part of dentistry is the resourcefulness of clinicians who imagine creative solutions and turn those dreams into reality.
One of the things about technology that really revs my engine is the “power of the hive.” This can apply to a lot of things both in our professional and personal lives. The “hive mentality” is tremendously important today because technology has allowed us to be incredibly interconnected. We can communicate with each other in close to or absolute real-time, and we hardly even think about it anymore.
In the old days, you were lucky if you could communicate at all. Imagine if Sir Isaac Newton could have reached out via text and communicated with his peers. How far ahead would our world be now? Newton was forced to communicate by the written word and then limited by the amount of time it took that written word to reach its destination. The hive mentality allows us incredible bandwidth to share our ideas and concepts.
One of the other things I love about technology is the ability to save things on the fly. The phones we carry everywhere can allow us to save videos, photos, or written words in a multitude of formats. I have a real passion for motivational quotes, and I am absolutely thrilled that I can hear or read something incredible and save it on the spot, never to lose it.
One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” It’s a deep thought, but it also makes a ton of sense. If you can figure out a better way to do something or a better tool to accomplish a task, you have the foundation of a success story. Add in the power of the hive mentality, and you have the ability to get suggestions on improvements to your mousetrap in seconds instead of weeks.
The great thing about the world in which we currently exist is that we have some great minds that are on a constant path of developing better dental mousetraps while we can use the power of the hive mentality to rapidly improve them and get the product to market.
Dentists are an enterprising bunch; many products that doctors reach for every day are the result of a doctor seeing a problem and then visualizing a solution. As many of you have read here before, I graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology. Probably because of that, I have a real fascination with how our minds work and how individuals go about finding solutions to the problems they face.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to be able to walk on both sides of the line in dentistry. By that, I mean I get to see things in development—sometimes from the duct tape and zip-tie stages all the way to the completed product—then I get to actually work with these products clinically to see how they perform. It’s a lot of fun, and it has been a great way for me to learn.
I love history, context, and backstories; pretty much everything we touch that is created by human hands was a concept in someone’s mind at some point. Even the Great Pyramid of Giza was once just a sketch on an ancient cocktail napkin. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the concepts and products that we use and see where they came from.
Ultradent is one of the best dental companies around. They make many amazing products that help doctors and patients all over the world. Their company’s mission and corporate motto is to “improve oral health globally,” and they definitely work toward that goal.
This great success story started as an idea from the mind of a young dentist. Dan Fischer, DDS, the founder of Ultradent, had an undergraduate degree in chemistry before receiving his dental education at Loma Linda University in California. He had not been practicing long when he became aware of how many dentists struggled with hemostasis, especially for fixed prosthetic impressions. His undergraduate degree combined with his dental knowledge allowed him to develop ideas about how to solve that problem.
He worked evenings and weekends, even using his own blood, to test different formulations of hemostatic agents. The result was Astringedent, the first product from Ultradent. Dr Fischer was such a strong believer in his invention that he would demonstrate its effectiveness at dental meetings by standing in the company booth and sticking his forearm with a needle, then using Astringedent to stop the bleeding.
The company started in his kitchen and, as it grew, it moved to a hay barn on his property. His children even helped package the very early products for shipment. Today, Ultradent products are used in more than 100 countries, and its world headquarters is in a 460,000-sq ft building in South Jordan, Utah. Not bad for a company that started in a kitchen!
The LED Curing Light
Sometimes great ideas come from individuals in the industry, but not necessarily from a doctor. The LED curing light is one of those ideas.
In 1986, Dr Densen Cao was a young scientist who came to the United States from China to pursue a doctorate degree in materials science. He completed his studies and then, as luck would have it, he took a job working for Drs Gordon and Rella Christensen at what we now know as the CR Foundation.
While working there, Dr Cao got the idea to use an LED instead of a standard light bulb to set composite; from there, the LED curing light was born. He went to Dr Christensen, told him his idea, and asked for advice. Dr Christensen advised him to follow his dreams and today, the CAO Group manufactures soft-tissue lasers, curing lasers, and many other pieces of dental equipment.
I was lucky enough to visit their facility, and I was blown away by their technology. Over the years, Dr Cao has filed dozens of patents on many amazing ideas and devices. His company is FDA-registered and ISO certified. Their headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, occupies a 60,000-sq ft facility. His latest creation is the Monet handheld curing laser.
While we’re on the subject of LEDs, here’s another piece of trivia. Nowadays, we are all using LED lightbulbs in our homes and offices. Dr Cao has 2 patents that remain the fundamental structure of today’s LED light sources. The next time you turn on the lights, you have Dr Cao to thank!
Matrix Band Improvements
For almost 2 decades, I’ve been friends with Simon McDonald, MSc, BDS, DDPH RCS, a dentist who resides in New Zealand. One of the things I love about him is that he is what I like to refer to as a renaissance thinker. McDonald ponders things, mulls them over in his mind, and comes up with unique solutions. In the early 2000s, he noticed that doctors were having trouble creating ideal composite restorations with Tofflemire systems that were designed for use with amalgam.
In 2003, he founded the company Triodent, and in 2005, they introduced the first sectional matrix with V-shaped tines made of nickel titanium. It was easy to place a wedge in between the V-shape of the tines, and the nickel titanium meant it held its shape over hundreds of uses. The V-Ring Sectional Matrix System exploded in popularity and won numerous awards over the next several years. It became so popular that the system was eventually purchased by a large dental manufacturer.
Rather than sit back and enjoy his well-deserved success, McDonald went back to his inventor roots and developed several other products. The cool backstory on this tale is that by the time you read this, his next product will be available for purchase.
McDonald’s newest company is called Rhondium, and the company is now shipping its QuickConnect Anatomy Band. It is a circumferential matrix that is tightened up around the tooth with a special wrench. The wrench is called the QuickConnect Carrier and locks onto the band so it can be carried to the mouth with no risk of dropping the band. Once the band is tightened onto the tooth, the carrier has a release that allows it to be removed from the band. The restorative material is then placed, and the band can be removed by either the carrier or tweezers.
Once tightened, the matrix stays tightened. It will not loosen or unwind as some other systems do. The bands are color-coded for easy identification, have terrific anatomic contours, and are incredibly thin (35 μm). Although they are remarkably thin, the bands are strong and can be easily placed between teeth with snug contacts. I’ve been evaluating the product for about 2 months and have been very impressed with it.
Dentists and the practice of dentistry benefit greatly from the efforts of large manufacturers. Large companies have large budgets that allow for large research and development departments. Large companies can create amazing things. However, many times, the perspiration of clinical practice leads to the inspiration of a better mousetrap. Only a doctor has the experience to think, "This would be so much easier if only…”
Great ideas are not the sole property of big companies or lofty genius thinkers. In my career, I have been so impressed with the wisdom of the practitioner who spends their life “in the trenches” and whose experience leads them to create a solution to a problem they face. I love getting contacted by doctors who have a solution to a problem and a dream of bringing that solution to the profession.
I have highlighted 3 individuals here, but they are just the tip of the proverbial inventing iceberg. So many things that doctors use every day were born from the minds and inspiration of other practitioners. If you have an idea, a concept, or a dream, follow it! You may have the key to making the lives of your peers easier and the lives of our patients better.