How one orthodontist molded his practice and products
By Mike Fratantoro
While many orthodontists would agree that running a private or group practice is a full-time job, some doctors take on the added challenge of creating and managing a side business. In this issue, Orthodontic Products spoke with Roger S. Wolk, DDS, MS, ABO, about his experience as an orthodontist and a small business owner. Wolk, a former instructor of surgical orthodontics at UCLA’s School of Dentistry, managed a practice in Malibu, Calif, for 22 years before retiring, and in that time he created a number of side business projects related to the design and manufacturing of original orthodontic products, which he continues to do today.
As an orthodontist, how did you go about starting a side business?
Roger S. Wolk: Since orthodontists are trained to be mechanically oriented, I immediately got interested in developing new product ideas. I started my own business because I couldn’t get any orthodontic companies to get excited about my first product, the Equa-Pull Headgear module. I rented a booth at the AAO Conference in 1981, and I got so many orders that some orthodontic companies finally wanted to carry the product. I began manufacturing the product myself, so I had to invest in tooling and assembly, but the profit margins as a manufacturer were much better than only receiving a small royalty as the patent holder. Although I sold Equa-Pull several years ago, it’s been quite successful and is still selling after more than 30 years.
Tell us about how you created your current business. How did you come up with the idea?
Wolk: The MiniMold Technique is a business that started organically during my practice years because many of my patients were teens and children, and their parents frequently wanted me to do some minor alignment, of mostly upper teeth, without any brackets or retainers. As a creative solution, I bonded .016″ NiTi wire directly to the maxillary teeth (usually 3-3 or 4-4) with a dollop of light cure resin by placing the wire in the position on the tooth where the bracket would be placed. I would need a ligature director to hold the wire in place during curing. My patients’ parents were delighted with the esthetics because the wire was very small and the resin bond was the same color as the teeth.
Given the success, and in order to have a consistent-sized resin bond, I decided to make a mold, like a tiny cookie cutter, with a spherical cavity and a groove to hold the wire, which allowed me to place the wire and cure the bond at the same time. The mold was also very useful to direct bond a 3-3 retainer. I applied for a patent, made the prototype tooling, and called it the Wire Bonder. OrthoArch agreed to market it, and the doctors loved it. Today, from the original Wire Bonder Molds, the line has expanded into 10 other MiniMolds products used to make attachments for many other functions.
What has your experience taught you about starting and operating a small business?
Wolk: An idea is the easy part. Creating a marketable and profitable product is a process requiring patents, prototypes, tooling, marketing, and money. The challenge to starting a side business and manufacturing a product is to first make sure you have legal protection and learn the process of product design, cost analysis for manufacturing, and a business plan. I don’t have a business degree, but having run a practice, I knew enough to craft a basic business plan in order to assess whether the profit potential justified the time, effort, and money that needed to be invested. It’s also important to share your ideas with some colleagues, as you may find that your idea isn’t so great after all.
My experience taught me that a simple clinical solution that saves either time or money is invaluable to the doctor. I would encourage other orthodontists to be creative and dream up ideas and products. The training required to become an orthodontist and to run a practice translates easily into starting another small business. OP
|Roger S. Wolk, DDS, MS, ABO, is a retired orthodontist from Malibu, Calif, and a former instructor of surgical orthodontics at UCLA’s School of Dentistry. He can be reach at [email protected].
Mike Fratantoro is associate editor for Orthodontic Products. For more information, contact [email protected].