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The next 20 years of dentistry will be nothing like the last 20 years. This industry is transforming and manufacturers need to help move it forward by facilitating the exchange of ideas and offering new and reliable information to clinicians. Not everyone moves at the same pace, or with the same range or breadth; learning curves are wide-ranging and digitization will push people in new and numerous ways. So, once in awhile industry leaders need to pause and make sure everyone shares at least some part of the path ahead. Responsibility comes with leadership, and making the move to digital dentistry requires fresh ideas and strategic action.
As with any groundbreaking idea, manufacturers need to challenge themselves to make new technology not only relevant, but also practical. The market wants to move fast, companies want to move fast, however, whatever is "new" has to work for the clinician and be right for the patient.
Technology must be practical, efficient and clinically efficacious. I've heard dentists say, "That's a great technology, but I don't know how it will work in my practice." At that point, the technology does nothing for anyone. It has to be able to be applied in a meaningful way and be useful in the daily practice of dentistry.
Due to the sheer volume of information that will be available to dental professionals, confusion about how it applies to everyday dentistry is a real possibility. Manufacturers must keep practicality and relevancy in mind. In order to inspire confidence in dental professionals, manufacturers should let dentists know they can rely on the information they are receiving.
Additionally, it's very important in any industry transformation that there be two-way dialogue. Learning goes both ways, and the people benefiting from the technology need to not only be heard, but also challenged by those developing the technology.
Perhaps most importantly there is a great need to collaborate to define this digital future. Companies need to partner. Countries need to partner. The industry and academia need to partner. It's very difficult for any single enterprise to go it alone as we move forward. Understanding workflows, both in the short- and long-term, will make the difference in digitization. There are many opportunities for partnership in this field where the whole — the benefits and strengths brought by each party — is greater than the sum of its parts. We've formed several recent strategic partnerships in this spirit, and we envision more to come.
We envision an exciting future, but many steps must be taken to get there. We must be patient in order to ensure that positive changes are sustainable, and we can't forget about the transition involved in getting there. There isn't just one way to do something, and we need to explore all of the different ways to help make dentistry faster, easier, and better. We also need to ask ourselves if we are truly prepared to be agents of change.
Collaboration between companies, universities, dentists, and laboratories will be required more than ever before. Change is not the issue — how we manage change is what will define the future of dentistry.
Jeff Lavers is division vice president and general manager of 3M ESPE Dental Products, where he oversees the worldwide business of 3M ESPE. During his 20-year tenure at 3M, Lavers has spent 15 years working in 3M's oral care businesses. He has held various positions in the areas of sales, marketing, and general and international management. Notably, Lavers served as the global director of marketing for 3M ESPE Dental Products during the acquisition of ESPE Dental AG.