From the ivory tower: Biodontics helping young dentists become early adopters

Sept. 1, 2006
Except for the usual 6 to 8 percent of early adopters found in almost any group, dentists are not known for rapidly embracing innovations.

By Edward F. Rossomando, DDS, PhD, MS Professor and Director, Center for Research and Education in Product Evaluation (CRETE), School of Dental Medicine, University of Connecticut, Farmington, CT

Except for the usual 6 to 8 percent of early adopters found in almost any group, dentists are not known for rapidly embracing innovations. The need to enhance the rate of acceptance of innovations by the dental profession has become so acute that a new dental discipline, Biodontics, has emerged as the dental specialty that actively encourages the introduction of innovations into dental practice. Biodontics promotes such acceptance by focusing on dental students. In 2005, roughly 4,300 students graduated from the 56 U.S. dental schools; one can only assume that perhaps 10 percent of these students will be early adopters, and therefore Biodontists. However, the Biodontics Educational Program (BEP) was developed with the goal of at least doubling this number. It is the BEP’s assumption that, by enhancing the adoption of innovations, the dental office will become more effective and efficient, which, in turn, will enhance the population’s accessibility to oral health care.

To double the number of early adopters, the Biodontics Educational Program has developed a curriculum that addresses two questions usually asked by dentists:

  1. Why is the first generation of a new product so expensive?
  2. Why should I purchase these new products first and be an early adopter? Will my office be more efficient and provide better service for my patients if I act quickly?

Why is a new product expensive?

The curriculum developed to respond to this question considers the process by which ideas are converted to marketable products. To discuss the process, the BEP program invited several dental entrepreneurs to explain it. Presentations by Dr. Arthur Ashman, founder of Bioplant Inc., Dr. Kenneth Kornman, a founder of Interleukin Genetics, Inc., and Dr. Jeffery Hillman, a founder of Oragenics, introduced the process from the point of view of the inventor and entrepreneur who decides to set up a company to manufacture the product. When the inventor decides to license the technology, a presentation is often made to an established company. For these presentations, it is useful and often helpful to understand how a company makes a decision on which of the many technologies are presented, and what it will select for license and manufacturing. To provide insight into this decision-making process, R&D directors from several companies have been invited to participate. Presentations by William McHale of Primer Dental Co., and Foti Panagakos of Colgate-Palmolive, Inc., reviewed the process their companies employ to decide which innovations to license and bring to the market.

To fully understand why the first generation of a new product is so costly, it is necessary to understand the cost of manufacturing a new product line. To provide this insight, the BEP included presentations and tours of three Connecticut companies including Centrix, Inc., Pentron, Inc., and Ultimate NiTi Technologies. During each of the tours, the costs associated with acquisition of capital equipment, personnel training, and compliance were discussed in detail. From these presentations and tours, it became clear that there are extensive sunk costs associated with any new product, and these costs must be recovered if the company is to survive.

Will my office be more efficient and provide better service for my patients if I adopt the product early?

To discuss this point, the BEP Fellows had presentations by Patterson Dental and Benco Dental. These companies explained the financial impact of the acquisition of new products and how a practice can be improved and patients better served.

However, the acquisition of a new piece of equipment or product is often not sufficient to bring about a change in the office. For the new acquisition to promote efficiency and productivity, it is often necessary to change the way the office is organized and functions. For example, for CAD/CAM or digital X-ray equipment to benefit an office, the location and functioning of each suite or area may have to be modified. Are the reception area, the waiting room, the radiographic suite, the sterilization suite, the supply closet, the hygienist operatory, the fabrication (operatory) suites, the patient education suite, the accounts payable suite, and the office management suite all in correct relationship to one another? In particular, this inter-suite functioning will be examined from the patient’s perspective - “Are the areas arranged in a path that allows for the patient to ‘flow’ comfortably from one suite to the other?” and, “Are the suites and areas arranged to minimize stress and maximize quality and patient comfort?” To address these questions, the BEP Fellows toured the dental offices of Drs. Egan, Hagopian, and Burns, and were educated in the principles of dental office architecture by Garrett Ludwig, president of Diversity Design Technologies.

For a new product or technology to have maximum impact on a practice, patients must be informed of the acquisition. This requires marketing and sales. The BEP Fellows learned about branding their practice from Richard Malinsky, and marketing and sales from Joseph Sakaduski, president of Sakaduski Marketing.


If enhancing the number of early adopters will promote the acquisition of new products and technologies by dental practices, then an educational program is needed to accomplish this goal. The Biodontics Educational Program was designed with this goal in mind. The BEP curriculum addresses two questions asked by dentists prior to the acquisition of the new products - Why are first-generation products so expensive and why be an early adopter? The curriculum developed to respond to these questions includes presentations made by experts who continue to face such problems. The format of the program allows for maximum interaction between presenters and the Biodontics Fellows. Case studies are used extensively to give Fellows first-hand experience in dealing with these issues. It is my hope that the BEP will enhance the number of early adopters, thereby promoting technology innovation and improving the general health care provided to patients.

Author’s Note: Dental companies or individuals interested in participating in the Biodontics Educational Program should contact Dr. Rossomando at [email protected]. The author also wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Mathew Moura in the preparation of this article.