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Viewpoint: An Interview with Thomas Leonardi
IDT sat down with Thomas Leonardi, Group Vice President Dentsply Sirona Lab Strategic Business Unit, to discuss the company’s new strategic business units, digital dentures, and more.
Inside Dental Technology: Dentsply Sirona has created these new strategic business units. What does this mean for the company? What strategic advantages does this provide for the company and its customers?
Thomas Leonardi: The merger between DENTSPLY and Sirona gave our company a tremendous opportunity to leverage the strengths of the leader in digital technology and equipment, formerly Sirona, and the leader in dental consumables, formerly DENTSPLY. Both companies have rich heritages. As a senior leader, I was excited about the merger because it made sense and was the right thing to do. Both companies had strengths but also some areas for growth, such as the opportunity to complement each other’s product portfolios in order to offer end-to-end solutions to customers. Through the merger, Dentsply Sirona became the world’s largest manufacturer of professional dental products and technologies with the broadest clinical education platform in the professional dental industry.
From the laboratory perspective, it is a great, great thing for both companies to bring the inLab and Prosthetics products together under one umbrella of leaders. We have undergone significant reorganization within the company, and we no longer look at our businesses as small P&Ls; we look at it through a global prism. Our marketing and R&D are global. There are some small differences in specific markets, but for the most part, the laboratory world is the laboratory world, so we should be making global decisions for equipment, materials, and services within a common framework. This provides the best way to move forward.
IDT: DENTSPLY obviously had a very strong R&D department in terms of material development, and Sirona built out a huge R&D department several years ago. What is being done with those units?
Leonardi: Dentsply Sirona has 11 Strategic Business Units (SBUs), 10 of which are in dental, covering every area of dentistry. Our CAD/CAM SBU is the enabling technology for the company. There is almost no area of dentistry or of the laboratory business that digital technology and equipment will not touch. We have lived since 2001 with digital dentistry on the fixed side, and now it is coming to the removables side with digital dentures. For instance, one lecturer at this year’s Cal-Lab Group meeting said he is reorganizing his laboratory to have design and production, not fixed and removable. Things are changing.
For our company, I manage, along with our innovation team, the materials that we position as prosthetic solutions. Primarily, we take them into the laboratory, but those materials increasingly are used chairside as well. We are trying to develop materials with a focus on the patient’s oral health; that is the goal. The dentist starts a case and can fabricate the restoration in the office, in some instances, or pass the case on to a laboratory in most cases. It is about the entire value stream.
We think there is a tremendous amount of upside for laboratories based on what we are doing. Laboratories have been using digital dentistry for years on the fixed side and thought it was great. They see emerging chairside technology, and frankly, they do not think that’s great. Our company is at the forefront of this, but from the very beginning, I have told our key laboratory partners, “This is the best thing for you.” There is no area of our world that is not going digital. You cannot expect dentists to live in a digital world at home and then come to an analog office. As Dentsply Sirona, we can help our laboratory partners stay digitally connected with dentists and evolve digitally with them. Furthermore and beyond this, we offer laboratory owners extensive and effective support for their entrepreneurial activities. This includes access to the large majority of dentists who take and send digital impressions via our Sirona Connect portal. To a dental laboratory that uses Sirona Connect, every single dentist working with CEREC is a potential customer. The portal gives dental technicians the opportunity to present themselves as the partner of choice for the digital workflow.
IDT: A year ago, Dentsply Sirona was developing a millable chairside zirconia. However, are you developing materials that both sides can use?
Leonardi: We are healthcare providers. We help people smile, and we forget that we still help people enjoy basic things such as eating. Sometimes we get lost in the world of making people look good, and we forget that people cannot eat properly or enjoy these basic things without our help. They need to see a dentist or, in some places, a denturist. There are things the dentist can do, and things the laboratory can do for the dentist. Laboratories provide a great deal of services, such as material choices. I do not see it as a question of whether the dentist will work with the laboratory or not; it is how the dentist will work with the laboratory. Our job is to figure out the best way laboratories can help dentists satisfy patients’ needs. In some cases, that will be in the office, in some cases it will not. Sometimes it is a combination of both.
IDT: Will existing materials maintain their own brand identity, or will there be a Dentsply Sirona material?
Leonardi: This is exciting for laboratories. Fixed restorative dentistry, since 2000 to 2001, has been very heavily digital. DENTSPLY started it with Cercon zirconia, and now there is high-strength glass and other materials that can be milled. Now we are working with removables. This puts a spark of life in removables.
Unfortunately, when the economic downturn hit in 2008 and 2009, laboratories were affected more than the other areas of the industry. It has been a long, slow march back with growth rates of approximately 2% to 3%. The good news is the demographics are positive. In removables, for instance, there is more work being done each year with an aging population and people living longer, and as life expectancy grows, so do people’s dental needs. That means not only more dentures, but more denture replacements for the same patients. That is solid growth.
Unfortunately, because of the economic pressure experienced during the downturn, in some cases there may have been an acceptance of lower quality care to avoid costs. This seems to have happened with dentures with an apparent trade down to lower esthetic dentures. Providing digital dentures that offer a higher standard of esthetics with a more efficient production process is a way to address this. Digital dentures will put a spark of innovation and life into removables, which is great for laboratories and great for patients.
We are positioning our product as a premium product. The teeth we use within our digital denture process are Portrait teeth, which have been at the top of the industry for years. The fully monolithic outsourced product that we are offering is all IPN material, which is what Portrait denture teeth are made from. We are branding it Dentsply Sirona. This gives us the opportunity to talk about a Dentsply Sirona denture, which creates value for laboratories, because if you are choosing quality then you will choose a quality brand as well as a quality laboratory.
IDT: Where do you see the digital denture market going in terms of projected growth, material development, and other sorts of development down the line?
Leonardi: What happened in crown and bridge is a case study in what digital technology can do to conventional technology. On the removable side, it is estimated that today only about 1% are digitally fabricated. If the removable side takes off like the fixed side, this is only a guess, but in the next 10 to 12 years, it’s possible that 50% of all full and partial dentures could be made in some form of digital fabrication.