The new innovators

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dental innovators
CEO of Osteon Medical, Michael Tuckman is taking their implant production capabilities to the world. Photograph: Eamon gallagher

Meet the visionary Australians in the dental field whose breakthrough innovations have made a positive impact this year. By Kerryn Ramsey

Innovator: Dr Mark Wotherspoon
Innovation: Dr Mark’s HyGenie

Dentist and innovator Dr Mark Wotherspoon has conceived, designed and is now in the development stage of a simple all-in-one handheld device that cleans, stores and protects all manner of removable dental appliances.

Tough, durable and affordable, the device comprises a perforated casing that encloses a purpose-designed ‘cluster’ of 10 brushes that simultaneously scrubs and washes all surfaces of the appliance using a manual rotary action under running tap water. Dr Wotherspoon has also developed a dental appliance-specific sanitising liquid that thoroughly cleans and will even dissolve existing calculus and stains with regular use.

“There’s a lot of science that clearly links poor oral hygiene to oral and systemic disease,” says Dr Wotherspoon. “Dirty sports mouthguards have been connected to sports-induced asthma. As dentists we’ve all seen the lack of care and hygiene.”

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Dr Wotherspoon attributes his innovative thinking to his engineer father, Gordon. “He’s not only incredibly resourceful but stubborn and determined and never gives up,” says Dr Wotherspoon. “Those traits have definitely rubbed off onto me.”

Comprehensive consumer and clinical trials commenced last month and Dr Wotherspoon expects to have the Dr Mark’s brand launched onto the Australian market early next year.

It’s been a four-year journey to get Dr Mark’s HyGenie to this point. “To start with an idea and end up with a product ready for consumer and clinical trials is not an experience I can easily put into words,” he says. “It would have been close to impossible without my business partners Steve Plakotaris and Philip Wass.” 

Innovator: Professor Mike Hubbard
Innovation: The D3 Group

Professor Mike Hubbard has a passion. He wants to elevate Developmental Dental Defects (D3s) from dental obscurity to a globally recognised priority for medico-dental research and allied improvements to public health.

His main quest is to raise public awareness and eventually prevent molar hypomineralisation—or chalky molars—in children. The statistics around chalky molars are truly mind-boggling. One in six school children are affected; there are 12 million new cases each year worldwide; and there is a 10-fold higher risk of decay for many children with chalky molars. 

As part of that awareness-raising, Professor Hubbard has set up The Chalky Teeth Campaign (chalkyteeth.org) in conjunction with The D3 Group (thed3group.org) he started in 2007. The aim of the group is research and education. Due to their advocacy, the ‘D3 movement’ has now made it to the world stage, as evidenced by endorsements from professional organisations and the dental industry, international membership and academic invitations.

“Local dentists and academics helped me recognise molar hypomineralisation as a huge problem that would benefit from my biomedical research expertise,” says Professor Hubbard. 

One major difficulty was communication across different stakeholder groups.  “And we’re always battling funding shortages, particularly after the founding benefaction ran out,” says Professor Hubbard.

The reach of The D3 Group continues to expand right across Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, there are now 100 international friends from 31 countries and three international ambassadors. The next challenge is to build D3G chapters overseas and encompass multiple languages. The fight against chalky teeth has well and truly begun. 

Their first product, TrimphDent, has been developed  in collaboration with A/Prof Dax Calder. TrimphDent is a polymer solution that is injected at the base of an extraction socket. It instantly forms an elastic that mixes with blood to stabilise the clot. The scaffold complements the natural healing process by providing an optimised environment for cellular regeneration, vascular ingrowth and bone regeneration. What’s more, within three months TrimphDent is resorbed into the body, leaving healthy tissue at the site.

Innovator: Dr Ali Fathi
Innovation: TrimphDent

dental innovation

While completing his PhD at the University of Sydney in 2014, Dr Ali Fathi invented an injectable class of scaffolds that is able
to regenerate bone, cartilage and connective tissue.
Together with Terence Abrams, he founded Trimph in 2015
 and established a production facility in 2016. 

“Application of TrimphDent in fresh extraction sockets is simple and easy to use in clinical practice,” says Dr Fathi. “Unlike all other bone substitute materials, it is delivered as a liquid and forms an elastic matrix at the site. TrimphDent requires no specialised preparation, socket packing
or additional surgical expertise.”

Since its incorporation in August 2015, Trimph has secured more than $5.2 million in both private and public source. Their sterile facility is located in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria and is a key strategic asset for IP protection, quality control and early access to the Australian market. 

Recently, Trimph secured $1 million from the NSW Health Medical Device Fund to complete TrimphDent’s clinical trial. Trimph has also secured nearly $1.4 million from the Entrepreneurs’ Accelerating Commercialisation Programme to position the company for initial
sales of TrimphDent.

Dr Fathi has also used his technology in the creation of TrimphGlue, an elastic scaffold that is easily applied to bone defects, and TrimphGel, an injectable gel that uses the heat of the body to form a regenerative scaffold for soft tissue repair.

“Our products are unique due to four key elements—they are injectable, temperature responsive, regenerative
and resorbable,” says Dr Fathi. 

Innovator: Denise Higgins
Innovation: Virtual reality anaesthesia

dental innovation

Denise Higgins used her skills as a lecturer in oral health and her role as simulation coordinator at the University of Newcastle, NSW, to invent a groundbreaking VR simulation. It gives students a unique opportunity to practise administering dental injections in a virtual environment before they enter the patient clinic. 

“I evaluated the teaching curriculum and discovered there was a gap in the learning loop,” says Higgins. “Repeatedly practising on live patients is not an acceptable standard due to ethical and safety reasons.”

The learner is fully immersed in the virtual reality scenario complete with interactive capability with the dental surgery, patient, bracket table and syringe. The VR provides computer-based simulation support for the hands-on dental local anaesthesia with the synthetic tissue part-task trainer capable of repeated needle insertion and unlimited solution deposition.

“Both the synthetic tissue part-task simulator and the VR were concepts for several years until I had further knowledge in simulation-based teaching and learning,” says Higgins. 

The VR and synthetic tissue part-task simulators can be used by oral health practitioners who would like to participate in hands-on dental local anaesthesia CPD courses. The VR and the synthetic tissue part-task simulators offer participants the opportunity to repeatedly practise real-life scenarios.

At present, the VR is in the proof-of-concept stage. Higgins is determining if any alterations or additions are required. That will be followed with further research to determine how best to use it and how long to achieve optimum results. 

Innovator: Michael Tuckman
Innovation: First Australian integrated advanced milling centre

dental innovations
Photograph: Eamon gallagher

As the CEO of Osteon Medical, Michael Tuckman leads an innovative digital company that runs a state-of-the-art facility. Here, clinicians and laboratories can send cases that require digital production of implant prosthetic products. While there are similar facilities in Europe, Osteon Medical is the first commercial advanced implant production facility in Australia that uses only industrial graded machinery for their production.

The innovative facility uses advanced digital design and manufacturing techniques to precision-mill high-quality and safe implant prosthetics and solutions for use in implant dentistry and maxillofacial surgery. 

“We thought it would be great to develop our products in Australia partnering with Australian universities to help commercialise them,” says Tuckman. “We’ve refined our products so much that now it can be a completely digital process end to end. For example, we’re able to access an intra-oral digital file and produce an entire Nexus Plus digital hybrid incorporating teeth, gingival and titanium substructure all seamlessly integrated into a one-piece device.”

The company has gone from success to success, now exporting many of its products into Asia. Recently the ADIA awarded Osteon its New Exporter’s Grant. This will enable them to exhibit their products at the International Dental Show (IDS) in Cologne, Germany in March 2019. With over 150,000 potential customers attending the IDS, it’s an opportunity for Australian-made solutions to expand into international markets.   

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