Simply the Best

July 1, 2011
What is "The Best"? As I travel around the country, I am constantly asked, "Which one is the best product?"

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

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What is “The Best”? As I travel around the country, I am constantly asked, “Which one is the best product?” I have no straight answer. In each category, there are many products that are similar and perform similar functions. But sometimes they get to the end result in a slightly different fashion. Some are clones or copies. In fact, the same product can be seen in a category with just another label. There is a term called OEM, Original Equipment Manufacturer, that allows one company to produce a product and sell it under different brand names and slightly different packaging. So the same product is actually competing with itself.

At the recent Chicago Midwinter Meeting, I went through 50 rows of exhibits and often saw big signs claiming “the best,” “the most powerful,” “the strongest,” “the brightest,” “the fastest.” I think you get it. Each representative I spoke with showed me pages of paper or short computer presentations with “the proof.”

Many liked to show studies from a well-known research group in Utah. (Who could that be?) In some cases, I was shown the same study results by three different companies. Each demonstrated why they were “chosen” as the top choice. This was certainly an interpretation of data.

On my plane ride home, I opened up Sky Mall magazine. All of us do this at some point. Hammacher Schlemmer has many products that it calls “The Best.” The company states:

“A product earns The Best designation only when its cumulative scores in categories such as effectiveness, ease of use, and safety features prove to be superior to its competition. External considerations like a product’s cost or profit potential have no bearing on testing methods or results. We survey consumers to determine which features and capabilities they deem most important for a given product category, and most tests are designed to replicate the manner in which consumers use the devices.

We seek out professionals or experts whose specialized knowledge and skills provide valuable insight into a product category and help us evaluate products more effectively. We also rely on consumer testing panels that use the products as they would in a domestic setting and record their experiences.”

Admirable. But realize that this title is based on a consensus of opinions. In dentistry, products are assessed by practicing professionals, as well as consultants who listen to their clients. Does a product that works well in my six- treatment-room office with two doctors and two hygienists work the same way in a two-room solo or 20-room group? What about regional differences of practice? I recently had an animated discussion with DE editor, Dr. Joe Blaes, about the use of bevels or no bevels in fixed prosthetics. There are coastal differences of education and opinion. Staff members’ ideas and preferences are quite different from office to office.

Perhaps “the newest” is valid, although some of these products contain pieces of others and may just be a new presentation of an old idea.

What brought this all to mind was that I recently was asked to name “the best” intraoral impression scanner, digital sensor, caries detection device, and more with a large panel of experts. We found that each had his or her bias and choice of what worked best in his or her hands. Also, we quoted research that we had read, been part of, and believed. We challenged each other, sometimes animatedly, which is the way things should be.

As in any democracy, there were votes and winners. In some cases, there was no clear title. These findings were recently announced, but it behooves the practitioner to look beyond such a label and a claim. I can give advice in this column and in my lectures. I know all too well that if I pronounce that I like and I am using a product, a few of the course attendees or readers will run out and order it. I feel a great weight of responsibility in this regard and respect this power.

I practice in a specific style and attitude. I am in New England. We are quite smug here with our educational and technological prowess. My math, science, and engineering background allows me to help interpret studies and claims made, and make statements that I can certainly back up.

Still, it is important for you to remember that what I state is my (educated) opinion. Certain things work very well in my hands and my practice. As my friend and co-expert, Marty Jablow, states, “Don’t check your brain at the door.” As I have said repeatedly, read, study, ask, do your research, and then decide. I’ll see you at my next seminar or on the meeting floor.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry’s first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a website ( and can be reached at [email protected].

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