Three-Dimensional Printing and Three-Dimensional Aligner - A Success Story : Journal of the International Clinical Dental Research Organization

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Guest Editorial: Indian Start-Up in Dentistry success Story

Three-Dimensional Printing and Three-Dimensional Aligner - A Success Story

Ludhwani, Suresh

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Journal of the International Clinical Dental Research Organization 14(2):p 81-82, Jul–Dec 2022. | DOI: 10.4103/jicdro.jicdro_277_22
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“I could either watch it happen or be a part of it” – Elon musk.

I belong to a family of health professionals with no business background, and being an oral medicine and maxillofacial radiologist resident made it difficult as you had no one to look up to as it was always considered an academic branch of dentistry. For me, criticism for Oral Medicine Diagnosis and Radiology (OMDR) from peers (one should know how to take criticism) was the reason for the origin of the idea of starting a diagnostic center that can provide exclusive diagnostic services, as I always considered that a good diagnosis would lead to a better treatment plan for the clinician.

The biggest challenge for me was the lack of financial expertise (something we should be teaching undergrads), as I was planning to start up something that would cost 5 million per setup with no strong backup. This made me seek support from outside, so with a few financial partners and a bank loan, my first project was on board. The idea of starting a chain never occurred to me until 6 months ago, when I realized this diagnostic center concept could operate even in my absence and still be financially viable (if you don't figure out how to make money while you sleep, you'll work until you die – Warren Buffett). The dental clinic business in India is a doctor-driven market where patients can feel comfortable only in the presence of their same treating doctor. Later, perhaps it was my Sindhi genes that helped me negotiate with cone-beam computed tomography (CBCT) machine companies to buy machines on EMI with no interest (this was about 5 years ago). Today, India as a whole is buying imaging products in the same way.

The strategy for expansion was simple: find dentist-dense areas, which was not that difficult, keep your expenses as low as possible, and spend more on giving something new to dentists every time in terms of services, so I always bought different company CBCT machines that gave me exposure to different software (software is king in all businesses, not hardware) and updates on how European and American dentistry worked as they set the trends for Indian dentists. After 6 years, with the support of a few good friends and thousands of dentists, we have 17 branches, none of which has any financial liability. The idea of creating a legacy is the goal. The second turnaround came when I started feeling the heat of competition (don't wait until your competition affects your business; be the bull of your business). My curiosity led me to take up a course on three-dimensional (3D) printing, and I realized this is a disruptive technology with the potential to wipe the milling out of the market in 10 years. On my visit to Germany and Poland for training, I realized the digital dentistry revolution is around the corner. We will see a paradigm shift in the way we practice dentistry in our daily lives over the next 5 years now that we are in the transitional period.

A 3D printing start-up Indian Digital Dental Services (IDDS) played a pivotal role in my life as it gave me what I needed: A change. Setting up this business was not as difficult as Oroscan, as I was aware of the dental market and dentists who could support me initially until everyone realized this was going to become part of their routine dental practice whether they wanted to accept it or not. We increased from one case per month to 15 cases per day, with PAN-Indian referrals from the dental and medical sectors. A capability to explore and make every difficult procedure, such as a nerve bypass and customized implants, easy with virtual planning and 3D printing are the game changer. If you ask me what we have achieved with IDDS, we have given a big solution to a problem I called “unpredictable and surprise dentistry” with a more planned and predictable approach. We provide a platform where we create customized solutions for every case with different plans using 3D printing, and dentists appreciate that as it saves their time, and at the same time, produces error-free results. (It's time to switch from brain-guided to computer-guided procedures.) After exposure to the medical sector, it opened different avenues for me, as now I am working in all fields, such as printing kidneys and jigs for Uro-Onco surgeon and fibula jigs for plastic surgeons for mandibular reconstruction. To do all this, one has to develop the habit of saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way because there is a solution to every problem, but it needs your time and effort.

As it is rightly said, “make the trend your friend.” Before COVID, I read an article on the future trends of the global dental market, and it highlighted the growth of invisible orthodontic treatment, which we also know as aligners. Ambitious minds have no limits, and the idea of providing aligners manufactured at low cost for a treatment that at present is available only to selective strata of the population can be changed. The biggest task in this venture was to first overcome the myth that aligners are ineffective or have limitations. A year of treating our own cases and conducting various trials until we could collect a year's worth of data and compare it to the results predicted by software at the start of aligner treatment. This led to the birth of my third venture, 3D Align, a company that will undoubtedly provide your patients with the experience of elite treatment in attractive packaging at a low cost.

Digital dentistry is here to stay for the next decade, and we are here to grow. As India is moving toward becoming the world's third largest economy by 2027, I feel this will have a direct impact on patients' capacity to spend, so as a service provider, I feel we have good future prospects. Our future plans are to grow across India, incorporate artificial intelligence and advanced diagnostic tools into our practice, and give effective solutions for temporomandibular disorder, which is the next biggest dental crisis we will be facing in the near future.

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