The American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID) conference was hosted this year in New Orleans, Louisiana, with podiums and placards appropriately accented with Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold. With thousands of dentists and hundreds of industry members present, the annual conference was a true mecca of dental knowledge. Over the course of my three days at the conference, I was presented with an inside look at a snapshot of the most current research and developments in the dental implant and biomaterials spaces.

While attending academic lectures and making rounds on the exhibition room floor, I was reminded of some characterizations of the dental implant space that I already know to be true. For example, as I reviewed dental implant company product lines on display, I recognized the highly commoditized nature of this market – differences in product lines manifesting themselves in minor tweaks and alterations. To compound this statement, one company was offering an exact replica (at a fraction of the cost) of one of the big premium company’s implants, who also happened to be present on the exhibition floor. Implant design copies are not uncommon in the dental implant space, yet this occurrence serves to underline the lack of innovation in this market.

Nevertheless, there were some interesting new developments worth highlighting. For example, Biotechnology Institute’s UnicCa implants, which feature a calcium infused surface coating, purportedly create ideal conditions for implant stability while reducing bone regeneration times. In addition, in the biomaterials space, there were several companies offering platelet/growth factor extraction systems; these biologics have seen growing attention in the dental implantation process.

That being said, the physicians that presented at the conference seemed to be less concerned with implant/biologic type, and more focused on the general lack of research in the dental space, as well as on tailoring procedures and materials used on a per-patient basis. For example, in his lecture on Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) technologies, Dr. Dean Vafiadis explained that the decision to use a particular device, like a screw-or cement-retained abutment, cannot be made objectively; dentists should tailor their treatment strategy on a patient’s particular needs. He also encouraged the use of CAD/CAM technology to facilitate greater patient understanding of treatment options – when a procedure is laid out in a digital format through use of CAD/CAM, the patients are more easily able to understand the procedure process. Dr. Vafiadis suggests that digital dentistry, like CAD/CAM, ultimately allows dentists to spend more time with patients. This is important as there is a growing patient consumerism in the dental space, and patients want to have a larger role in treatment option decisions.

In her lecture, Dr. Tara Aghaloo spoke about the current knowledge surrounding the risks, classifications and treatment options for peri-implantitis. Dr. Aghaloo highlighted the lack of formal diagnosis and treatment guidelines for this disease as she stated, “When there are a million ways to [treat peri-implantitis], there’s no good way at all”. This exemplifies the lack of concrete clinical data in surrounding standard peri-implantitis diagnosis and treatment guidelines. Dr. Aghaloo also mentioned that in the future, physicians hope to be able to characterize peri-implantitis by its unique biofilm, in other words, by performing a gingival fluid analysis. I think that developing these fluid analyses to help with early diagnosis of peri-implantitis could be a really interesting and lucrative venture for dental manufacturers, given the large and growing prevalence of peri-implantitis.

Finally, in his lecture, Dr. Craig Misch stressed the fact that although there are many options available for implant site development, there is not enough clinical data to justify the use of growth factors, such as those found in Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP), or Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP), over autogenous bone, which still remains the gold standard for bone grafting procedures. In fact, Dr. Craig stated that for all of the published studies looking at the use of BMP for bone regeneration, none of the studies followed-up to see the success rate of the implant a few years down the road. Over all, Dr. Craig echoed the statement of his colleagues in saying that no single biomaterial is optimum for every single patient – surgeons need to tailor their treatment strategy to the patient’s needs and select the approach with the lowest overall cost, and the highest likelihood of success.

Overall, the AAID 2016 conference demonstrated to me that there is a need for greater patient customization in the dental space in order to deliver better health outcomes; that dental solutions cannot and should not be a one size fits all scenario. And although high commoditization in the dental implant space forces competitors to compete on price, there is the manufacturing potential for exciting new developments, such as tests to diagnose early onset of peri-implantitis disease.

Thanks for a great conference, AAID – until next time!

DRG has published a report covering the North American Dental Implant Market. It provides qualitative and quantitative insights on the value-and premium-based implant markets. The competitive landscape in the dental device area is rapidly changing to meet low-cost demands; let us help your company navigate the way forward. Follow Lucy on twitter @lucyfedericoDRG for more insights into the dental markets.

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