The way manufacturers and clinicians look at implant dentistry certainly has changed since Ken Varner first started at Zimmer Biomet Dental nearly 20 years ago. Back then, companies focused primarily on product training—essentially how to follow proper protocols when placing their products/implants—while clinicians mostly treated dental implants as a standalone procedure.
Today, that has shifted, said Varner, who is the director of education for Zimmer Biomet’s Dental division. Dentists are now looking at treatment plans more comprehensively, and the training clinicians and their team members receive reflects that—helping them become confident and proficient in all aspects of implant therapy.
“If Mary comes in and is missing a tooth, dentists don’t replace the tooth anymore. They stop and ask why is Mary missing a tooth. Is there an underlying factor like hygiene or a medical condition? That’s the bigger issue,” Varner said. “Dentists are now truly treatment planning holistically. They’re looking at dental implant therapy and how it impacts their entire practice. And as manufacturers, we have a responsibility to not just sell products, but to make sure we train doctors to competency in the safe and effective use of those products.”
There’s also been an evolution in what implant companies provide. Twenty years ago, they primarily sold implants and abutments. Today, companies are offering a full portfolio of solutions. The surgical product lines have expanded to now include full regenerative portfolios, from bone to membranes. We are also seeing a whole suite of digital technologies, Varner said, from intraoral scanners and digital software that help clinicians treatment plan full-mouth rehabilitation. Because of these, doctors have one point of contact for the entire treatment process, rather than having to work with different companies along the way.
“It’s been a gradual change,” Varner said. “Everyone knew you needed bone grafting materials, membranes and abutments with implants, but seven years ago no one thought you needed a scanner, digital planning software or a 3D printer. Now, every major implant manufacturer is affiliated with an intraoral scanner and digital implant planning software. These technologies have really changed the face of dental implant therapy over the last five to seven years. Zimmer Biomet Dental is proud to now offer a true end-to-end digital solution for our customers, but we are just as proud to offer the education needed to learn such a solution.”
Zimmer Biomet’s Teaching Methodologies
The training Zimmer Biomet Institute offers focuses on four areas: theory, knowledge acquisition, technique review and skill development. These are the basic fundamentals needed to properly teach anything, Varner said, and sets clinicians up for success no matter their proficiency or comfort level with implant dentistry when they first start.
While many of Zimmer Biomet’s courses hit on all four topics, the manufacturer also offers hands-on only options for doctors who have the first three areas down.
“We recognize,” Varner said, “there is no singular approach or style when it comes to learning. No matter where dentists are in their pathway to education, we offer a complete curriculum that covers the information they need.”
Trends in Dental Education
The biggest trend in dental education is how it’s delivered, Varner said. The COVID-19 pandemic forced manufacturers to develop hybrid courses, meaning clinicians no longer have to travel to attend a class and be out of town for four or five days. Now, they can take 80 to 90 percent of the course online, only traveling to complete the skill development portion.
Being able to take courses online via video conference is just more convenient, and is a trend Varner expects to continue long after the pandemic is over.
“Clinicians better understand the work/life balance because of the pandemic,” Varner said. “Companies like Zimmer Biomet have taken their educational libraries of content and moved them to an easily accessible education app. Zimmer Biomet Dental’s education app assures dentists they’re getting quality information that they can access on a Sunday night if they want without affecting their family life. In the past, it was just standard to travel. Now, people are thinking about it more and appreciate us bringing more flexible content to them online.”
The Future of Local Shows
Even though clinicians like the convenience of online education, there still are times when they want to touch, feel and see products in person—and regional shows offer a great opportunity for that.
With dental shows, clinicians can check out multiple products in one location, from gloves to loupes to intraoral cameras. They also can take in specific product training. For example, they can learn not just how to do a full-arch case, but how to do it with the Zimmer Biomet system.
“Dentists want to touch and feel the things they use, and you can’t experience that in a virtual world,” Varner said. “Regional dental shows have a huge impact in our industry. The scale and format of these shows may change slightly, but they’re still important and I know Zimmer Biomet will be supporting them going forward.”
Learning From The Medical Side
Zimmer Biomet, while a leader in dental implant therapy, also has another focus: orthopedics. The two company segments have significant synergies.
Much like the company’s screw-based implants, the knees and hips Zimmer Biomet manufactures feature a metal device that’s implanted in bone and then must integrate with that bone to create stability, Varner said. The orthopedic and dental implant products are both made of titanium, making bone integration similar, but the dental implants face additional challenges because of where they’re placed in the body.
“We do leverage a lot of the same technology, but the interesting thing is in the dental world, the oral cavity we work in is very different from a biological perspective than a bone in a knee,” Varner said.
Many mentors have helped guide Varner over the years, including some of the best educators he’s encountered—educators who are always pushing the envelope, asking why things are done a certain way and how they can be done better.
“I realized there was more to dentistry than just product or procedural training,” Varner said.
There are also influences outside of dentistry that have helped shape Varner’s career, including the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. After reading that book, Varner changed the way he approaches problems, both big and small.
Industry Putting A Focus On Education
Individual companies are investing more than ever in education, something that Varner expects to continue. That’s because dental manufacturers are realizing the importance of education and their role in assisting doctors to competency and proficiency in the use of their products.
While clinicians learn a lot in dental school, there are differences in what they are taught in school and applying what they have learned to a level of practical competency, Varner said. Manufacturer education fills in those gaps, emphasizing the importance of looking at the entire oral cavity and taking a more holistic approach to patient care.
“It’s our job to make sure we keep that bar elevated,” Varner said. “I’m proud of what the leading companies in the industry are doing educationally. Doctors can now find good quality education in large volumes, and that’s impressive to me.”