Let the buyer beware!

Nov. 1, 2004
Do new dental materials live up to their hype?

It is common knowledge that most consumer markets are saturated with duplicate products that often offer the same benefits with use. Manufacturers who are in competition for shelf space employ savvy marketing tactics to generate buzz and entice consumers to buy one choice over another.

Recently, the dental materials market has mirrored the consumer products market with a proliferation of new products. Patient demand for perfect white teeth, an increase in esthetic treatment, and marketing that sometimes outpaces research has complicated the market for dental materials, according to an article in the November 2004 issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

Dental products have undergone a revolution in development and marketing. "Dentistry is a microcosm of society in general and everything is more complicated today," says Michael Miller, DDS, president of Reality Publishing, an independent dental products reviewer. Dr. Miller believes that the vast majority of dental products companies are well meaning; however, sales pressure influences marketing.

According to Dr. Miller, "the chemists in the labs developing the products are not dentists... they are often ill-equipped to really know whether a product they are developing is going to actually benefit a dentist."

Dentists are alarmed by what is seen as an increase in the use of manipulated and biased literature to support claims for dental materials. Richard Simonsen, DDS - who formerly worked for dental products manufacturer 3M Dental - says, "...it is best to assume that those marketing instruments and materials in dentistry are, much of the time, at best exaggerating and at worst simply lying in order to enhance sales."

Dr. Simonsen believes although there are many fine manufacturers of dental materials, "there are some who are willing to place untested materials on the dental market...with little regard for the efficacy of the material or the effect it may have on patients and on the reputation of the dentist."

Karl Leinfelder, DDS, a noted dental materials researcher at the University of North Carolina, wrote in the Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry (Spring 2001) that "presentations at local and national dental meetings dealing with dental materials has increased substantially...(however presentations) related to the science of materials and justification for their use has correspondingly diminished."

Despite the unnecessary and ineffective materials available today, there are products that have been, and are being, introduced that have evolved treatment options. Dentists must be more skeptical and questioning of new products to prevent costly replacements for patients and decreased confidence in dentists' capabilities. Decisions to use new materials should be preceded by discussions with the manufacturer about material applications and abilities, evaluation of research and independent studies on the material, and thorough examination of instructions to ensure proper use.

Dental materials experts agree that dentists are ultimately responsible for the materials used to treat patients. The best protection is to be adequately informed about new products before adopting them into your practice.

According to Dr. Simonsen, dentists - who are not accustomed to dealing with the concept of "something on the market that's not going to work" - must become better consumers in this new age of dentistry.

The AGD is a non-profit organization of more than 37,000 general dentists dedicated to staying up-to-date in the profession through continuing education. A general dentist is the primary care provider for patients of all ages and is responsible for the diagnosis, treatment, management and overall coordination of services related to patients' oral health needs.