Getting Claude Berthoin to agree to an interview isn’t difficult. The 66 year old President and CEO of Denterprise International Inc. likes to talk about the industry he helped build from the ground up, and he’s got a lot to be happy about. After all, with six trade shows and brand new product on his digital shelves in 2019, the dental imaging business is stronger than it’s ever been.
No, Claude Berthoin is eager to interview. It’s pinning him down that’s the problem. With a rolling schedule of what seems like thousands of interconnecting appointments throughout his week as well as traveling the country and world promoting his latest products, stopping this renaissance man for long enough to chat is like trying to catch mist.
When we finally met up at my office on a Thursday afternoon, I made it a point to get as much from him as possible before he had to run off. Luckily for me, Claude was more than happy to oblige.
Tell us about the history of Denterprise and Video Dental.
“My journey in dentistry started in March, 1989, at the Ideas Show in Germany. I was invited by a cousin and a dentist in France, who had the idea of developing a camera for the mouth. Later on, those items were called “intraoral cameras”, and we developed the very first camera in the fall of 1989, called the Oral Videoscope.
Even though there were two other cameras at the time, one made in Japan and another with a mirror attached, we were pioneers by including an endoscope at the end, with rotating tips and many autoclippable attachments. This made the camera very very popular.”
In the 29 years since, the company has experienced impressive growth and established itself as a pillar in the dental imaging community. Denterprise and its retail arm, Video Dental Concepts, have developed relationships with over 50 vendors and 10,000 customers, visited over 250 of national trade shows, and put out more than 20 of the leading intraoral devices in the world.
That’s not to mention the incubated North American dental manufacturers and extensive consultant work. They are also a holding company, manufacturer, and sometimes OEM. A wholly owned subsidiary, Video Dental is the Reseller Network’s flagship and a leading FDA Consultancy.
“Today, dental practices have the choice of ordering online, including on Amazon’s Health Care Division. So there are a lot more opportunities for doctors to buy equipment. Practices today are looking more for services and training, and they’re doing their purchasing right over the Internet. When you go to trade shows, you see a great diversity of products. This kind of competition is good for the practice – they get to have something new, all the time.”
How has the industry changed since you started Video Dental in the 80s?
“The dental industry, especially in imaging, was dominated by European manufacturers. We manufactured in France, back in the early days, and then shifted our production to the US. And with time it changed – it shifted to Asia, back in the mid-2000s, and they’ve really come to dominate the market now. In the particular area of imaging, we have sensors manufactured in Asia, with intraoral cameras now dominating this market at a much lower price.
On the production side, we have many European companies today subcontracting out to Asia, as well. They’ve learned how to make these products and how to do it very well, so now they’re coming to this market very strongly. And, of course, Asian products are much less expensive, which is another thing in their favor.
We also see major manufacturing companies coming to the market from Asia, financed entirely by their governments. This is something the US doesn’t do very well, and the Europeans have backup from their governments as well. This is going to grow more and more in the years to come.”
Is buying from a dealer better than buying online?
“There are two sides to this. If you want good service and somebody to come to your office to do follow up warranties etcetera, of course a dental dealer is your best choice. Alternatively, if you are able to do many of those installations yourself, or you’re looking for an excellent price, buying online is a good way to go. Between buying online and buying through a dealer, you’ll actually find it’s split about 50/50 today.
On the distribution side, there used to be many dental dealers in this country. Over the years, those companies have purchased large numbers of dealers, and companies like Henry Schein have become some of the largest dental dealers. We also see national dental coops coming together. The traditional distribution networks still exist, but there is pressure for lower prices created by the Internet, which only came about in this industry ten years ago. It’s a very casual for a doctor to purchase, online, their supplies and equipment. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen.”
And on the question of whether they’re good or bad?
“Good, because we want to be able to purchase at the right price. If the online price is right, great. The dealers still play a role in service, support, training, warranties, etc. I believe that we are probably at 30% of the total dental supplies and equipment being purchased on the Internet today.”
Do dentists tend to update technology or maintain what they have?
“It has something to do with age. Dentists over 50 used to have the reps coming to their offices, looking at their inventories, helping to source things. They would do what we call detailing, which is demonstrating products.”
“The younger dentists are used to videos. Intraoral scanners, impression scanners etc, the demonstrations for these will be totally online, without a need to have anybody in their office except for training. As the older generation is declining and the younger generation are coming more into the spotlight, we will see the Internet playing more of a central role in this industry. For manufacturers looking to save money, cutting out the middleman by going digital can be very attractive, provided that’s in line with what their clients want.”
What makes Denterprise International different, and what do you see for the near future?
“What allows me to continue innovating in this industry are my contacts, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific. I travel to Asia and Europe regularly, visit the biggest trade shows in Shanghai, Germany and other major locations. We go out and see new manufacturers, new dealers, new inventors.”
“One great source of products for us is referrals from 510kFDA.com, a subsidiary of Denterprise, as well a regulatory firm I started in 96. That firm processes what we call 510kFDA applications, which is a permit to sell a medical device in the united states. You must file a lengthy report, with all kinds of test reports, safety, sterilization, electromagnetic safety.”
“All the equipment manufacturers in our field have to have a 510k. Our firm has generated over 40 of these applications, some of them for our friendly competitors. There are many examples of us helping companies complete their FDA applications, and then becoming their sole distributor in the United States. That’s the difference between us an a regular manufacturer or dealer. We do everything – manufacturing, subcontractors, OEM products, regulatory clearance, and sometimes we distribute or even find distributors for the client.”
“In this way, we stay in touch with the factories. More inventors and manufacturers come to us, either through the FDA process or through personal relationships.”
“In the future, we’ll probably focus more on incubating products and launching them in the marketplace. We’d like to merge with another retailer and consolidate our operations, and continue to develop the regulatory firm as well.”
“Regarding the intraoral impression scanner, digital 3d printers and milling machines, I see a huge future. I saw the rise of the intraoral camera in the 90s and how people didn’t really believe in the technology. Everybody has one today. Every practice has maybe six or seven of them. We personally went from two or three vendors to over fifty. Ten years later, we see the rise of the intraoral sensor and the intraoral plate sensor, as well. I see the price for 3D printers and milling machines going down, and this awesome price point bringing in the big dental manufacturers at an increased rate.”
“The next thing will be chairside milling or closer relationships between practices and milling services over the Internet. We expect roughly 40% of our revenue in the next three years to come from DSOs and dental practices. They want production and quick revenues, and what better way to do this than purchasing scanners and milling machines to help consolidate their costs?”
Any final words to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
“I want to inspire anybody that has an idea. I had an idea with my dental endoscope. A dentist implemented it and we all worked together. But it was just an idea. Then we had another idea, and another, and another.”
“Einstein says ‘Nothing happens unless you have an idea.’ If you think about it, without an idea you don’t have an invention, you don’t have a patent, and you don’t have an industry. If you have an idea, get it done. File patents, or get somebody to help you. This is the seed of a potential career, the potential seed of a great business or income source for you.
And reflecting on his passion for the industry?
“Sometimes people say I have too many ideas at one time, well – that’s just what makes me jump out of bed in the morning.”