Dr. Scott Yamaoka models the first version, left, and his son, Zach Yamaoka, models the current version of their face shield.

Dentist’s PPE invention is a hit

March 16, 2021
This dentist got to work while he was stuck at home last year, and his face shield invention has been very well received among dental professionals.
Meg Kaiser, Associate Editor

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This was true for Scott Yamaoka, DDS, MS, during the early days of the shutdown. His frustration then has become a new dental product now—the Next Generation Ambience Optical face shield.

“As the pandemic set in and dental offices shut down, I began to think about how we could get back to work in a way that would keep our dental teams and patients safe,” said Dr. Yamaoka, who has a practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, and, it should be noted, has never invented anything before.

“It became clear that, moving forward, a face shield would be necessary to help keep our dental teams and patients safe. Images of hospital workers helping COVID-19 patients really drove this message home. But at the outset of the pandemic, it was nearly impossible to get one of these shields, which were sold out everywhere. And even if you could somehow get one, I realized that the shields made with foam and plastic film would be ineffective in the dental environment, which requires the accommodation of magnification loupes and fiber optic lighting. Also, they were unclear and uncomfortable during prolonged use.”

How he got started

So, with his practice shut down and some time on his hands, Dr. Yamaoka got to work in his garage. He became inspired by a photo on social media of a person wearing a homemade face shield made with a reversed baseball cap, duct tape, and a piece of plastic. Instead of a cap, he started with a construction hardhat, and its mesh suspension head harness and brim became the foundation. He removed the top of the hardhat and used magnets to hold a plastic sheet in place. Since plastic was also in short supply, he improvised with the acetate plastic sheets used in overhead projectors.

Fifty shields later, and now with permission to return to their offices, Dr. Yamaoka gave the shields away to his colleagues to help them get back to work safely. He included instructions on how they could make their own shields to equip their teams as well.

“The feedback was great,” said Dr. Yamaoka. “The shield was even featured on TV. My colleagues were asking of they could buy more, and word was getting around. At this point I decided to ask my son, Zach, an engineer at Dyson, how we could improve the design.”

Room for improvement

“I was impressed how my dad just went out and found a solution and made this new shield,” Zach said. “After we got feedback on the first version—the Mark 0—I gave him some suggestions.”

One suggestion was that the shield was quite bulky. Another was that the plastic was held on with magnets. If a couple of team members got too close, their face shields stuck together!

With positive feedback and multiple requests from dental teams, Zach decided to become more serious about his role in the face shield’s creation. They invited 12 other dentists to consistently provide feedback and input during every stage of the design updates. Five months and 58 prototypes later, the next generation loupe shield and version that is available today, the Mark 1, hit the market. A patent is pending and has been approved for sale by health authorities.

“I’ve now used the face shield for a couple of days and I’m really impressed,” said Dr. Rahil Faruqi. “I hardly notice I’m wearing it as it’s very comfortable. The vision is crystal clear, and sometimes I’m not even sure if the shield is lowered and I have to double check. It’s a great product.”

Dr. Rabia Gill agrees. “It’s an excellent product! It melted away months of frustration of looking through hazy screens and rendering my magnification useless.”

"These shields are great,” added Dr. John Wilson. “I’ve tried several others, and this is the only one that accommodates my 6.5 X loupes and headlight without any glare.”

Will it have staying power?

“I believe that face shields will become part of the regular PPE for dentists, much the same way that gloves became part of our protection after the HIV crisis in the ‘80s,” Dr. Yamaoka said. “And that’s even if we put aside the possibility of new variants and novel viruses in the years ahead. Having never worn a shield before, I realized just how much biomaterial was being sprayed or splattered on my face and glasses after wearing one during a surgical procedure and looking at the shield afterward. So, with the quality of Next Generation Ambience Optical face shield, great optics, and comfortable convenience, I can’t see myself not wearing one as an embodiment of the precautionary principle.”

Patients are also impressed with the new shield. “They value the visual assurance that we’re doing our best to keep them and ourselves safe,” said Dr. Yamaoka. “They love the story behind the product, and when they that my son was involved, they appreciate the hard work and positive impact young people have had during the pandemic.”

Remarkably, marketing has been simply through word of mouth. “We wanted people to experience PPE in a way that was so radically different and exceptional that they would be excited to tell other dental professionals about it, post about it on Facebook, share our Instagram posts, and drop the website link in their Whatsapp groups.” Dr. Yamaoka has also been invited to share in study clubs, and they are currently reaching out to dental schools.

To add to the fun, Zach said the unboxing experience is “magical.” “We wanted to make it something people would talk about. The idea is that when you receive the shield, you don’t know if you’re getting protective equipment or the newest Apple product.”

Are there any more inventions in the Yamaoka’s future? Perhaps, and it will also be in the area of personal protective equipment. “The current paradigm of PPE is to make something cheap, low quality, and disposable,” said Dr. Yamaoka. “This has advantages for reducing cross contamination, but it’s not the only way. What we have tried to achieve with the Loupe Shield is make something that lasts longer. That allows us to justify putting in all the great technology that makes a product a joy to use. It also dramatically reduces the amount of waste. We have created a high-quality, long-lasting alternative to the throwaway face shields. In the coming year expect us to do the same for another category of PPE.”

 To learn more about the product and whether it's right for your practice, visit AmbiencePPE.com.

This story originally appeared in theMorning Briefing.Subscribe here.