What is the dental dream? After seven years of dental and periodontal training, one year practicing in Southern California and now in my second year working in Boston, the simple question is still unanswered in my mind. It wasn’t that I never had an answer … I had thought of many over time, yet none of them stuck.
I knew what we were taught to aspire to in dental school—graduate, own your own office one day and work for 35 years until you retire! That was the gold-standard plan. More ambitious colleagues had the different approach of buying multiple offices over time and building them up until they would have enough to hire associates and just oversee them. It was higher risk, but if it worked as planned, that route had a very high reward. That’s IF it worked, and from what I had seen thus far on both coasts among friends and colleagues, the odds weren’t as strong as they sounded.
Being a periodontist isn’t what it used to be either. The whole world is pushing their way into implants and “easier” perio procedures, thus opening your own perio practice with expectations of a strong referral base would be a significantly greater challenge today than it was a generation ago.
I was always teased by my dental school friends that I should never have been a dentist, as I had a political science degree and would spend much of my time imitating faculty members. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy any of it, rather that I wanted to do more than treat patients forever. I came across a book titled The Four Hour Workweek just weeks after finishing dental school that left a permanent impression on me and went against everything I was ever told or taught. The ultimate was goal wasn’t to accumulate more degrees, more offices or more titles. Instead, it was to have a self-sustaining business and create more free time for yourself!
Yet dentistry, unlike the majority of businesses, does not allow for much flexibility, remote work opportunities or a shared chain of command. From the beginning it’s on you, and you have to choose where to lay roots and spend years making it grow. Thus, I would have to find another way to succeed within the dental-career structure. In the spirit of this, I found a calling to address needs in the dental field. After many years of brainstorming and thinking of countless ideas, taking a commercializing science course at Harvard Business School finally made things click, and soon after, Dental Innovations LLC was formed.
The process of creating a company and a product is long and costly. Legal fees to setup an LLC, register as a corporation with your state, corp taxes, intellectual property and trademark paperwork, and manufacturing/prototyping was just the tip of the iceberg. Once my first product, the DI15 High Fidelity Electronic Earplug, was launched, the much larger challenge of educating the field, marketing the product and generating sales came into play.
The fact is, doing this on your own is very expensive and takes a tremendous amount of your time and energy. Ideally, you want to start the process with a solid business plan and long-term strategy. Are you hoping to grow the company and create multiple products with your own workforce, or build the name and sell your product for profit? Have you tested the market for a fair price point and seen if a short online campaign creates enough hits to confirm interest? The greatest ideas, regardless of what you personally feel, only can work if others ultimately feel the same way. Hearing loss is a significant unaddressed issue in our field with decades of literature and thousands of dental professionals affected each year, yet you are still fighting an uphill battle.
Since launching the product in November 2014, we have signed distribution deals with Patterson Dental and Crown Dental in New Zealand, with other possibilities for the future. Like everything in the dental field, the initial pushback is there, but I am convinced this technology will soon become standard of care as dental loupes became many years ago. Ultimately, nothing in dentistry comes easy, not even when you actually try and help dentists themselves! Until then, I will continue pushing forward with my goals and am excited to see if I succeed in creating free time for my future.