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South Korea has one of highest rates in the world of the number of patients receiving implant surgery per 100,000 inhabitants, and Dr Kyoo-Ok Choi has played a significant role in developing implant dentistry in South Korea and around the world. As an experienced dentist and the founder of Osstem Implant, Dr Choi says that increasing training opportunities for dentists and keeping prices reasonable are keys to broadening the reach of implant treatment. Dr Choi spoke to Dental Tribune International about dentistry, the implant business and Osstem Implant’s plans for the future.
Dr Choi, does being a dentist change your approach to customer relations?
As a dentist and the founder of Osstem Implant, I understand better than anyone else the difficulties that dentists face. I think that this is the greatest factor differentiating our company from others—our understanding and consideration of the needs of dentists.
All dentists want to have good results. We provide excellent products, including implants and a series of related products and services, and we do this to the best of our ability so that dental professionals can achieve good treatment outcomes. We also provide educational training to improve dentists’ clinical competency in implant therapy, and this is our top priority.
Since the late 1990s, I have performed dental implant surgery and developed the curriculum of a clinical training course that aims to promote the advantages of implant treatment. The ten-day, 80-hour clinical training programme includes a live surgical demonstration, and it has helped dentists throughout South Korea to competently perform implant surgery.
We recruited dentists as faculty members to lecture on implant-related topics, and we built an education centre where dentists could complete their training. Osstem Implant’s active promotion of the clinical implant training programme has been a decisive factor contributing to the widespread use of dental implants in South Korea. Today, 85% of all dentists in the country can perform implant surgery, meaning that it is no longer a special category of treatment that is performed only by oral surgeons. As a result, South Korea has a high ranking in the number of patients receiving implant surgery per 100,000 inhabitants.
Osstem Implant’s training course curriculum has now been expanded to a 24-day programme having three parts: basic, surgery and prosthodontic. This programme, known as the Master Course, was officially launched in 2018 under the slogan “D.I.Y (do implant yourself)” and is now being offered by 30 overseas branches in 26 countries.
Another factor that differentiates Osstem Implants is the company’s variety of products. Every person has a unique oral environment, and supplying only a few products to the market can lead to difficulties in selecting what is required for an individual case. Therefore, Osstem Implant has diversified its product line-up to better suit each clinical case.
Osstem Implant’s value for money is impressive. Do you consider yourself a supplier of value implants?
That is true. However, to be more precise, Osstem products meet both premium and value criteria. The product quality is premium, but the price is comparable with prices in the value category. We believe that Osstem Implant supplies the highest quality products at the best price. Osstem Implant’s wide-ranging clinical applications, osseointegration performance, long-term stability and excellent clinical cases are comparable with—if not superior to—any other implant product in the world. Nevertheless, we set the prices low so that customer accessibility can be maximised. As the number of implant patients and dentists’ incomes have fallen around the world owing to the pandemic, more dentists have sought cost-effective solutions, and our sales have increased.
There is no doubt that a dental implant is the most ideal treatment option for missing teeth. However, there are still not many patients who opt to receive implant treatment, and the implant uptake rate around the world is lower than you would expect. The two reasons for this are that the proportion of dentists who can perform implant surgery remains low and the average cost of the treatment is a burden. Our solution to these problems is to actively offer clinical education and to keep the price of implant materials low, thereby broadening the expertise of dentists to include implant surgery and supplying the most cost-effective products on the market.
What are some of the specific characteristics of dentists in Europe, and how do they influence your business on the continent?
I think that dentists in Europe highly value academic research and proven data. They tend to adopt a product only when there is scientifically and clinically proven data. We do have data, mainly from South Korea and the US; however, that has not proved to be sufficient. We have, therefore, been expanding our research projects in Europe with the help of our local key opinion leaders, and we have furthered our collaboration with European academic institutes and universities.
Moreover, considering that awareness of our brand is relatively low in Europe compared with the rest of the world, we are working to strengthen our marketing activities with the help of our media partners.
Training and education are key topics for dentists working in Europe. What does Osstem offer in this regard?
The number of implantations in Europe is high but not as high as in South Korea. There are dentists who want to perform implant surgery but apparently lack the necessary training. We would like to help all dentists in Europe to be able to perform implant surgery.
To this end, Osstem’s clinical training programme concentrates on both theory and practice, with a particular focus on practical training. The goal is that dentists can apply their newly gained knowledge in the clinic. Together with our 46 partners and subsidiaries in 29 European countries, we provide local clinical training courses to dentists in all parts of the continent, and our course schedule can easily be found on our website.
Our goal is to introduce the full Master Course, which I already mentioned, in Europe. Currently, modified versions of the programme are already being offered in Italy and Hungary.
For those dentists in Europe who are unable to attend in-person courses, we continue to offer online educational content together with our European key opinion leaders. This has been provided on a monthly basis since 2020 and is called Osstem OnDemand.
After a three-year break, our European academic symposium, the Osstem-Hiossen Meeting, will take place in late October this year in Rome in Italy, and next year, it will be held in London in the UK. I am looking forward to meeting you in Rome!
“Although Osstem Implant is widely known as an implants manufacturer, we will ultimately supply software—the driving force behind digital dentistry”
Osstem offers more than implants. Do you believe that the future will involve total solutions as workflows, rather than individual implants?
Yes. Although Osstem Implant is widely known as an implants manufacturer, we will ultimately supply software—the driving force behind digital dentistry. We will also supply input equipment, such as CBCT units and scanners, and output equipment, such as milling machines and 3D printers. In this way, we will assist dentists in providing better care to their patients with the help of digital dentistry.
Regarding our dental unit chair, which is already available on the European market, we will continue to offer prompt technical support and the timely supply of related equipment and parts so that there is no inconvenience to our customers.
When it comes to software, we aim to develop and supply patient management software and software for medical imaging equipment that can diagnose the patient’s condition and interpret diagnostic data, as well as the CAD software needed for designing dental treatment devices such as surgical guides, dental prostheses and orthodontic appliances.
In terms of hardware, we will build a worldwide service network that provides the fastest possible shipment of medical equipment so that there is no forced downtime at dental clinics.
Of particular note is our intention to provide a total solution of interior services to dental offices. Considering our wide knowledge of the needs of dentists and their clinics, we will provide design and floor-plan services that guarantee quality and short construction periods. If problems occur, we will provide our services as quickly as possible so that there is no effect on clinical operations. Ultimately, our aim is to become a total service provider.
Lastly, can you tell us about the very latest dental implant products in your portfolio?
Numerous products have been developed recently, and we are especially proud of our successful development of the BA implant surface treatment using the bio-absorbable material hydroxyapatite, the SOI surface treatment and the KS implant, which features a new connection. As for a new guided bone regeneration (GBR) product, we are excited about TissueMax, which has been in development for four years.
Let me give you some more information about these products. On the BA surface, the hydroxyapatite nano-coating acts as a catalyst and increases the initial osseointegration speed of the implant. By promoting platelet coagulation, blood clot formation is accelerated and bone formation is promoted so that bone develops even in the partially exposed area of the implant. Also the osseointegration is improved even in the area where the bone is thin, thus increasing the implant’s success rate.
The SOI surface, which is coated with a surface energy protection substance, exhibits a performance that is similar to that of the BA surface. The SOI surface shortens the initial osseointegration time by over 35% compared with a conventional implant surface. The BA and SOI surfaces, which convert the sand-blasted with alumina and acid-etched surface (SA surface) to hydrophilic, are applied to all Osstem Implant products, and both have received favourable reviews in South Korea.
The KS Implant is a product that has reduced the diameter of the screw connecting the implant and the abutment by a total of 0.4 mm—from 2.0 mm to 1.6 mm. By reducing the screw diameter, the thickness of the implant neck is increased by 0.2 mm, which significantly improves the fatigue strength of small diameter implants. By lengthening the connection between the abutment and the implant, the degree of attachment between the suprastructure and the implant has been substantially improved, and this, in turn, has dramatically reduced screw loosening and thereby also reduced the chance of screw and implant fracture.
Finally, TissueMax is a product based on technology that in 2020 featured on the cover of Clinical Oral Implants Research. TissueMax is the first approved self-inflating oral tissue expander in South Korea, and the technology is mainly used in orthopaedics and plastic surgery. When TissueMax is used in a patient who cannot receive implant treatment owing to gingival recession, it increases the soft tissue of the exposed gingiva and improves the success rate of GBR, a procedure that facilitates gingival augmentation.
For the information of readers in Europe, Osstem Europe launched the SOI line-up at the end of 2021, the KS implant was launched in May this year, and TissueMax is expected to be launched in Europe soon.
This is an edited version of an interview that was originally published in German by pipVerlag.