By Paul Feuerstein, DMD
Dentistry lost one of its industry pioneers in June with the passing of Joan Austin. Joan's philosophy was "dream it, design it, draw it, and do it." The results have been innovations in dental equipment.
When you truly care, something interesting happens. It becomes your passion. You find yourself taking the initiative, giving it your all, and getting it right. It's an unwavering commitment. This explains a sense of purpose shared by the founders of one of the industry's great equipment manufacturers.
It started nearly a half century ago. While on a picnic, Ken Austin mentioned to his wife, Joan (pronounced Jo-ann), that air-vacuum technology could be used to create a compact, dependable saliva evacuator. There could be a business in it, Ken figured. If they dreamed big, maybe one day they could start a company with a dozen employees or so.
Joan was immediately intrigued. She encouraged him. Why wait? "We'll eat bread and beans if we have to."
A day later, Ken began machining a model for an oral evacuator prototype. That's how Austin Dental Equipment Company – or A-dec as Joan would have it known – was born.
It didn't take long for Ken and Joan to turn their basement into a workshop that would help advance the nascent world of sit-down dentistry. In 1965, Dr. Jack Galbraith of Hugo, Colo., bought the first A-dec Oral Evacuator.
A-dec would soon come up with the first compact delivery system that would revolutionize sit-down dental delivery. A-dec called its product the Dec-Et. From there, the company designed and built mobile carts. I bought six of them in 1975, and still keep a few in storage.
"A-dec began with a simple idea," Ken Austin said. "Create a better solution that's simple and easy to use, and treat every customer as if he or she were our last."
With Joan serving as company treasurer, business manager, and marketing codirector, the company's rise was steady. In 1971, A-dec employed 53 people from its Newberg, Ore., facility. Today, A-dec's 50-acre campus is home to more than 1,000 employees who manufacture and market equipment to dental professionals in more than 100 countries around the world.
But the story of A-dec's success cannot be told without exploring what drove the Austins. All along, the duo believed in the purpose of caring, whether that meant giving back to the community or ensuring every doctor using A-dec equipment was taken care of. Whatever the case, the Austin legacy continues with the company's favorite business creed, which melds integrity and heart: quality through caring.
A big part of that heart was Joan. Her passing in June meant that dentistry lost one of its industry pioneers. With all her warmth, we'll miss a great woman with an enormous capacity to give. Joan held a strong belief that life was too short to do something you do not enjoy.
Which brings me to Ken's latest labor of love: the TotaChair, his pride and joy. Designed for field and mission dental work, it's sold only through the Rotary International Club in Newberg. It's a back- and leg-adjustable wooden chair that weighs only 25 pounds. The chair helps doctors treat patients in some of the most remote parts of the world.
A-dec isn't about to sit still. If you have been watching the trades, you have noticed the rave reviews for the A-dec LED operatory light and the new A-dec 400 chair. The LED light is cool, bright, and – as Ken would have it – user-friendly.
It has won elite design and usability awards in this country and abroad. A-dec's latest addition to its product family has already been anointed Best New Product by AAWD.
Make no mistake. A-dec is a company that continues to transform difficult obstacles into simple solutions. Getting it right is built into the organization's culture and DNA. It's a company with an unwavering purpose.
To dream it, design it, and do it. And always deliver quality through caring. A great philosophy for your practice, too. So as you seat your next patient, step on the recline button, pick up a handpiece, think back to the past 50 years, and count your blessings.
Paul Feuerstein, DMD, installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978, teaching and writing about technology since then while practicing general dentistry in North Billerica, Mass. He maintains a website (www.computersindentistry.com), Facebook page (Paul-Feuerstein-DMD-Dental-Technology), is on Twitter (@drpaulf), and can be reached via email at [email protected].
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