Dentist Fills Cavity in Industry by Miniaturizing Equipment

Article excerpt

Take a soupcon of ingenuity, a strong background in engineering and an understanding of your work and you've got a recipe for developing tools to make your job a whole lot easier.

That's what dentist W.H. Harris did when he decided about 30 years ago that dental equipment was too big, bulky and expensive.

The result has been a miniaturization of the equipment, a portability that it never had before and a simplification that makes a dentist's job a whole lot easier. "I've always been interested in looking at things and trying to make them simpler and easier," Harris said. Now his manufacturing company more resembles a hobbyist's tinkering room than a production plant. But make no mistake, the operation is a full production facility. Everything from a simple eye wash station to meet industrial shop requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to a complete dental office that can be transported into undeveloped areas to provide dental care for the underprivileged. Harris began his second career -- dentistry is his first and still true love -- after he began making time and motion studies for more efficiency. "I got started by developing a new type of appointment book," he said. "I was the first to start making appointments for rooms instead of for dentists. "I noticed that rooms would remain empty while patients were waiting for the dentist to finish up. I decided that if we booked the room, the dentist could go from one room to another, working on several patients at the same time. "This is much more efficient," he said. After that, Harris started tinkering with the equipment. "Simplify," he said. "Take out as many parts as you can and still make the equipment work properly." His latest device, Mica Dent, is one that's got the machine shop running full bore, trying to fill the estimated 2,000 to 2,500 orders that have been received. "It's only been on the market less than a month, so I expect to sell a lot of these," he said. Other companies have similar, small portable dental equipment put together in the same way. These sell for a minimum of $20,000. "I sell mine for about $1,000," he said. That's a range of $2 million to $2.5 million in orders that have been received. The Mica Dent is a compact unit, utilizing most of the tools that dentists use, but it's portable and has relatively few moving parts. Its primary purpose is to do a sort of sandblasting technique on teeth, a process that removes decayed areas faster, easier and less painfully. The sandblasting technique also makes the filling material adhere more easily to the tooth surface once the bad portion has been removed. "Using this, you don't have to cut away as much of the tooth as you do in the normal drilling procedure," Harris said. …