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Interview: “CAD/CAM production really is the way forward”

Ed Attenborough is the Managing Director of Attenborough Dental and a board member of the Association of Dental Dealers in Europe. (Photograph: Marc Chalupsky, DTI)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Mon. 24. April 2017


The integration of digital dentistry into existing workflows has become increasingly popular as newer technologies have been developed. Though this approach can offer faster and safer treatment methods, it needs an experienced and educated dental professional to be implemented optimally. Dental Tribune International spoke with Ed Attenborough, Managing Director of Attenborough Dental and board member of the Association of Dental Dealers in Europe (ADDE), about the opportunities and challenges that digital dentistry presents.

What was the main purpose of Attenborough Dental exhibiting at the 2017 International Dental Show (IDS)?
We had two main aims for IDS: to find dealers in new countries for our traditional dental brush products and to look for potential franchisees for CAD/CAM production centres that we are establishing throughout Europe.

What does the company offer potential partners?
We offer a solution. Customers do not just want a random assortment of different technologies; they want the added value of expertise and knowledge regarding how systems work together, and they want to know how this can be delivered in a business context. We also offer end-to-end support so that everything is in working order from the time it is installed.

How does Attenborough Dental sell its products in countries outside of the UK?
We sell through dealers in other countries. To that end, we have used IDS to meet with dealers from countries where our products are not represented and to introduce existing dealers to other products in our range so that we can offer a broader portfolio in their respective countries.

How did Attenborough Dental become involved in CAD/CAM production?

Attenborough Dental has an extensive history. The dental brush side of the business was established in 1864 and the laboratory in 1913, so we have over 100 years of experience in both fields. My great-grandfather was a dentist, my grandfather was a dental technician and my father was a dentist. My background was in engineering and software, and I specialised in real-time embedded systems, which control rockets and radars. I joined the family business just as CAD/CAM technology was being developed and this provided me with a fortuitous path. I started at the bench and worked alongside my father for 12 years, learning the classical workflow and craft of dental technology. It is through knowing the classical workflow that one can get the best out of the digital workflow.

We opened the first CAD/CAM production centre in the UK in 2000. Over the last 17 years, this has grown to the point where we now have 22 one-tonne milling machines, five 3-D printers and a laser sintering machine, which all produce remarkably accurate and detailed dental parts and products. CAD/CAM production really is the way forward.

Let’s talk a bit about your role at the ADDE. How has the dental industry reacted to advancements in digital technology?
One has to understand that we are in a traditional and conservative industry. However, in terms of adoption of technology, although it has been a long path moving from classical workflows to digital workflows, dentistry has actually been one of the more receptive and progressive industries.

I am quite involved in the laboratory segment and when one considers the rate of technology adoption in this segment, it has often been quite slow. Only around 30 per cent of laboratories in the UK currently have digital technology, which is low. However, when I entered the dental industry 17 years ago, 35 per cent of the laboratory work for UK-based patients was performed offshore. This number has now shrunk to 13.5 per cent. We have, in a way, gone against the tendencies of globalisation and brought this work back onshore through digitalisation. When first I started, dental professionals were often worried that digital dentistry might put their jobs in jeopardy, but the truth is that digital dentistry is more likely to have saved their jobs.

The important thing to remember is that digital dentistry is just a tool that is only as good as the people who use it. It is useful in maximising productivity and freeing the technician up to perform the added-value, creative parts of the workflow. No matter whether one follows a classical or digital workflow, dentistry is a business built on human interaction between technicians, dentists, patients and many others. Our philosophy then is to encourage the fostering of these working relationships and networks and to work with technicians to deliver digital dentistry to the market.

How will digital technology change the dental dealer?
I think there will be a convergence between digital media and marketing and digital production. Selling will start occurring through digital channels created by the compartmentalisation of the workflow, in which little parts of the production process will be completed by separate manufacturers and brought together through a digital workflow that provides the finished product or service to the dental practice. There will be an increasing need for specialists, for dealers who understand how to provide solutions for dentists who are unsure of how to integrate new technology into their practices and need support with this. Combined with an increased opportunity for education, this presents a very exciting future for dental dealers, I believe.

What is the role of the ADDE in all of this?
First of all, the ADDE is a great source of knowledge for the industry, which is hugely important. We provide this information, as well as representation of the industry and its dealers. When partners outside of Europe want to enter this market, they will need this type of knowledge, which is where the ADDE really comes in handy. Many countries elsewhere are looking to Europe as a guide for how to implement innovation, because the continent has the right balance of legislation and regulations to allow for innovation without putting the patient at risk. The ADDE must continue to perform its role in this so that countries in the European Community can, likewise, continue to adapt to innovation in a beneficial way.

Thank you very much for the interview.

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