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An Interview with Brian Melonakos
Inside Dental Technology (IDT): You have been at the helm of Shofu Dental Corporation for 8 years now. What would you rank as the company’s greatest strength?
Brian Melonakos (BM): Shofu has always been universally respected in the dental industry for the quality of our products and for introducing products that make a meaningful contribution to the industry. We may not always be the first or second company to launch a product within a particular category, but when we do bring a product to market, we try at all costs to launch a product with a meaningful differentiation. Our R&D team in Japan is exposed to key opinion leaders on both the clinical and laboratory sides of dentistry. They participate in focus group and roundtable discussions as well as attend national and international meetings to garner information on the challenges dentists and laboratory technicians face, so that they can develop products that help resolve some of these issues. Our porcelain lines, for example, undergo the scrutiny and testing of master dental technician Makoto Yamamoto, who continues to represent the ultimate esthetic perfectionist technician on a global basis.
IDT: Could you give us examples of products on the laboratory side that have filled a needed gap or stand alone as differentiators in the market?
BM: Two years ago we launched a new porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) porcelain, Vintage® MP. Some might have asked,“Why, in a market significantly shifting to all-ceramic, would you launch a metal ceramic? However, when we looked at the indirect market, we saw that PFM-based restorations still represent a significant percentage of that market, and we also identified the need for a porcelain that was compatible with a wider range of alloys. We believed we could make a meaningful contribution by developing a ceramic that could be used on precious and semi-precious alloys as well as non-precious metals, which have been experiencing increased play with the rise in precious metal prices. In addition, all of our porcelain products can be fired multiple times without a shift in shade due to a special glass coating applied to each particle.
Another new product is our Ceramage® indirect restorative. We saw that long-term color stability in indirect composites was an issue in the market. Ceramage solves that problem. Also, in the last couple of months, we launched our new Veracia SA denture teeth with a unique Q3 Pack setup tool. The setup tool not only speeds up production time, but also helps to mitigate the shortage of qualified denture technicians by allowing a lesser-trained technician to easily set the posterior teeth. The teeth also have wear built into them, which means balanced occlusion can be achieved 80% of the time without adjustment, saving valuable time in the laboratory and the practice.
IDT: For a company long known for its line of finishers and polishers, it would appear greater emphasis has and is being placed on the restorative side of dentistry in terms of product development. Is that true?
BM: Finishers and polishers continue to be a strong and significant portion of our business. In fact, we recently launched Dura-Green DIA, a new diamond-impregnated abrasive that improves cutting and reduces chipping. Overall, however, for the past 8 years, we have been placing our sales and marketing focus more on the restorative side of dentistry. We see a growing number of dental practitioners whose treatment philosophy is more in line with the medical model of preventive care. These practitioners are seeking out and placing direct restorative materials that encourage remineralization, reduce plaque formation, and increase acid neutralization to create a healthier oral environment. We have been making significant contributions to that philosophy with our giomer clinical product lines. These are direct composites, bonding agents, cements, and sealants that actually release and recharge fluoride as well as other ions that help create a healthier oral environment for patients on a continual basis. It’s possible that we may be applying this technology to some of our indirect materials as well. We believe that dentistry should address more than just the immediate or acute problems of patients; it should expand that focus to helping patients on a systemic long-term basis.
IDT: This year marks Shofu Dental’s 90th anniversary. What can the dental industry expect from Shofu in the next 10 years.
BM: Our 10-year plan calls for tremendous growth outside Japan—especially in North and South America—with increased globalization of manufacturing and research and development, both of which are currently centered in Kyoto, Japan. There are many products that Shofu manufactures for and sells to the Japanese market that have relevance for the North and South American markets, so these—as well as new product lines—should be coming to the United States in the next few years. The new product lines will include one or two new categories of products where Shofu, until now, has never competed. Some of these new products and product categories will be on exhibit at the upcoming International Dental Show in March 2013.
Over the next decade, we also expect to significantly increase our expansion into the high-growth South American market, where an emerging middle class in a number of developing countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico is demanding a higher level of dentistry. The goal of Shofu Dental Corporation on the celebration of our 100th anniversary is to emerge as a global powerhouse.
Brian Melonakos is the CEO of Shofu Dental Corporation.