Building a Dental Equipment Industry

Domestic research institutes have developed numerous innovative technologies for transfer to the private sector.

Taiwan’s prowess in such industries as semiconductors and bicycles is well-known. If government efforts bear fruit, the list of industries in which Taiwan is among the global leaders may be lengthened in the years head – and dental equipment and materials could be one of the sectors added to the list.

Explaining Taiwan’s advantages in this field, Chen Tsung-chuan, chief secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology, notes that “Taiwan has a solid base in precision processing manufacturing and ICT,” two of the most critical prerequisites for the highend dental equipment and materials industry.

The sector is still relatively small, but its impressive development is regarded as one of the leading successes of a program by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) that aims to revitalize selected traditional industries. Under this “Technology Development Program,” the Ministry helps fund R&D in targeted technologies, promotes their transfer to the industrial sector, and even assists recipients in marketing their products, for example by organizing delegations to attend international trade shows.

Taiwan Pavilion at the International Dental Show in Germany.

Although separate figures for dental equipment and materials are not available, the sector is a major part of the medical equipment and materials industry, which had a production value of NT$141.5 billion (about US$4.7 billion) in 2016. According to the Biomedical Technology and Device Research Laboratories at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Hsinchu, the output value is expected to reach NT$200 billion by 2020 and NT$300 billion by 2025.

Much of the MOEA’s support is channeled through the semi-official Metals Industry Research & Development Center (MIRDC) based in Kaohsiung. Since the start of its involvement in the program in 2000, MIRDC has developed a number of dental technologies available for license to Taiwanese manufacturers, including metal/ceramic implants, improved types of dental-surgery equipment, and software for dental surgery planning and implant design.

Among the major technologies MIRDC has developed is a digital tooth-implantation guidance system to help dentists precisely position implant via simulation, to avoid the risk of misplacement or damage to nerves. The system utilizes a tomographic scan (imaging by sections through the use of a penetrating wave) and dental model, enabling the formulation of a customized tooth-implantation plan.

Other MIRDC-developed technologies include precision prosthodontics, second-generation artificial-tooth roots, rapid in-mouth scanning, and a 3D image surgery navigation system. Its intra-oral scanner can collect in-mouth data for transmission to a cloud-end platform, to be retrieved by crown manufacturers for the design and manufacturing of implants, halving the production time.

Taiwan has put a complete industrial system in place for tooth implantation featuring digital technology, says MIRDC vice president Lin Chih-lung. “Prospective tooth-implantation recipients first get a dental CT scan and the data is then used for computer-aided design (CAD) before production via computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) by a combined lathe-mill machine tool,” he explains.

“The implant is then performed based on a computer-simulated plan, in terms of the position, depth, and angle for implantation. This digital technology-assisted method has halved the time needed for tooth implantation to half a year. As the technology is perfected, the entire process will be shortened further to, say, one month, paving the way for tooth implantation-oriented tourism.”

“Another goal is to develop an entire tooth-implantation system – including implants, equipment, software, and service – for export on a turnkey basis,” Lin adds.

MIRDC also regularly organizes a Taiwan pavilion at the biennial International Dental Show (IDS) in Cologne, Germany, the world’s number-one exhibition for dental supplies and equipment. At the 2017 show, a total of 15 Taiwanese exhibitors displayed their products, comprising one of the largest national pavilions at the show.

Another important contributor to the industry’s growth has been the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Hsinchu. With financial support from MOEA’s Technology Development Program, ITRI has also developed advanced technologies for licensing to local companies. The main example is a precision dimensions laser (PDL) technology for the surface treatment of implants.

Government incentives have also promoted the development of an industry cluster within the Medical Device Special Zone of the Kaohsiung Science Park (part of the Southern Taiwan Science Park), including manufacturers not only of implants but of the materials and equipment needed for their production. About 20 dental-industry companies are operating in the Zone in Kaohsiung’s Luzhu district. Many of their products have been certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CE of the European Union, as well as the Taiwan FDA.

Wide variety of products

Some of the major manufacturers in the industry include:

  • Biomate Medical Devices Technology Co., which has two plants in the Kaohsiung Special Zone and utilizes PDL technology under license from ITRI. It produces implants, tool kits for tooth-implantation surgery, and digital guidance systems for tooth-implantation surgery.
  • Taiwan Implant Technology Co., which licenses MIRDC technology. Its spinoff Timax Technology has developed its own advanced digital tooth-implantation guiding system, called “Aq Navi.”
  • B.D.T. Co. has developed implants, corrective screws, and temporary anchorage devices (TDAs) employing a process that creates nano-level compound holes on the surface of the implant, enabling achievement of a 99.45% success rate for osseous integration. The technique minimizes the occurrence of inflammation.
  • LightMed Corp., a specialist in making ophthalmic lasers to treat diseases of the eye, has branched out by developing a YAG laser (commonly known as a “water laser”), which lowers the temperature in dental treatment to minimize tissue damage and lower the risk of infection. With the equipment, there is no shrill sound or need for anesthesia, which scares many patients, especially children.
  • Kinpo, a major electronics firm, has launched a 3D printer that needs a mere 15 minutes to produce an artificial tooth (crown) for implantation.
  • SyncVision Technology Corp. has used miniaturization technology to develop a handheld mouth mirror for convenient diagnostic use by dentists.
  • Inalways Corp. in mid-2017 introduced its patented “DeVAP” toothbrush, which automatically drains water in the mouth while brushing the teeth. It is designed for use mainly by patients in intensive care units or those incapable of cleaning their mouth themselves, thereby preventing in-mouth infection.

In addition, a number of screw manufacturers, most of them located in Kaohsiung’s Kangshan district, have substantially increased their revenue by making titanium-alloy screws for use in dental implants, notes Lin Wei-cheng, director general of the Southern Taiwan Science Park Administration.

Many of the domestic dental-equipment manufacturers have focused on Southeast Asia in promoting their products abroad. Consequently, MIRDC last fall joined hands with the Kaohsiung City Government’s Economic Development Bureau to display made-in-Taiwan dental and other medical equipment at an expo in Manila. Representatives of Philippine trade associations, dental-equipment dealers, and deans of several dentistry colleges were invited to attend the event to become acquainted with Taiwan’s equipment.

The outlook for Taiwan’s dental equipment industry is considered rosy, in part because domestic demand will be rising along with the aging of the local society. The market potential for tooth implantation-related materials and equipment is considered to be huge; among Taiwanese citizens aged 65 or older, according to the Health Promotion Administration of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, nearly 90% currently have tooth caries and over 750,000 people are entirely toothless.

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