Incisal Edge is proud to welcome two new inductees into this esteemed group for 2024.

Dr. Dan Fischer

Visionary and influential dentist-entrepreneur, educator and philanthropist
Emeritus founder and CEO, Ultradent
South Jordan, Utah

EVERY YEAR, there’s a spirited discussion (or argument, depending on whom you talk to) among the Incisal Edge team over potential Hall of Fame candidates. This year, one name prompted no dissent: Dr. Dan Fischer. The internationally recognized doctor built his highly successful company, Ultradent, founded in 1978, from a basement operation to a global powerhouse selling more than 550 products worldwide (including disposables, curing lights, lasers, composites and bonding, teeth whitening and more). In a 2018 article, we called him “the most prolific American dental inventor over the last 30 years.” At the time, his name appeared on 1.5 percent of all dental patents, topped only by the likes of 3M, whose roughly $32 billion annual revenue is 45 times that of Ultradent. Proof that great ideas can move mountains.

“I felt I did not want to go down paths others had, because those paths to that point were less than ideal,” he told us of the company’s earliest days. Astringedent hemostatic, Ultradent’s first product, was the result of “a lot of trial and error until I picked up a scent and then followed the scent of the hunt. I did not have anyone to consult with.”

The product was exceptionally well received, and Dr. Fischer says the first major turning point for Ultradent was “when we got permission from the FDA to begin selling [it] with the infuser applicator,” which employs a padded brush end to scrub and rub the hemostatic into cut capillaries. Of that experience, he admits, “I did not initially have all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed relative to FDA requirements. It taught me that I had to learn a lot quickly.” The second turning point was the introduction of Opalescence tooth whitening in 1990. Innovative? Yes, but the story of its invention is far more personal: Dr. Fischer created it to improve life for his daughter, who was self-conscious about the shade of her teeth. It improved the lives of countless others in the ensuing years.

Astonishingly, he continued practicing regularly for years once his company took flight, still putting in one day a week until a few years ago. “Practicing dentistry kept me rooted in our customers’ needs,” he says. “Obviously, I had to commit substantial time to development and manufacturing.” But those occasionally trying times brought a lifelong benefit. “Figuring out how to work through a day with less sleep gives you more waking hours to be productive.”

Today, Ultradent products are sold in some 130 countries.

“I knew it was time to expand when the validation of sales in the U.S., and the first two or three international sales, showed me that international markets could be successful,” he says. “Any significant expansion is a risk, but the greatest risk is to take no risk at all.”

Throughout all that growth, a more typical company could have acquiesced to growing profit margins by moving production offshore. Was Dr. Fischer ever tempted to do so? “I think a better question is, could we have committed to offshore manufacturing? The answer was and is no. I’ve always believed that if we could keep R&D, manufacturing, sales and, most importantly, our customers connected, we could improve our products better and create new ones that would otherwise live in the black hole of outsourcing.”

In fact, he says, Ultradent represents the opposite of outsour­cing. “We are one of the most vertically integrated dental companies. We have a small amount of manufacturing in other countries,but 95 percent of our products are manufactured here in Utah.”

Unsurprisingly, Ultradent has been recognized many times for being an outstanding employer. It may not be the cheapest way to operate, but for Dr. Fischer, it’s the only way that makes sense. “I realized it was so important to treat all employees as though they were family and to treat our customers with kindness and integrity. I’ve often said the practice of dentistry and the development and operating of [Ultradent] was like one hand washing the other.”

Doing the right thing comes up repeatedly in any conversation with Dr. Fischer. At his behest, the company does wide-ranging philanthropy with a lifetime impact in dollars and human health that’s probably too big to pin a number on. It’s not a separate pursuit but an extension of doing business. His list of nonnegotiables is clear and unflinching, starting with treating customers “as good or even better than we did in the early years” and “delivering a constant clear message” in an era when ethical corporate governance is more challenging than ever, and even the best companies get mired in corporate-speak. Ethics is, in fact, one of the secrets to his success—and a genuine business opportunity for other companies that choose likewise. “For those who can maintain great ethical standards while others change, it sets them apart. And one of the most important subjects in all aspects of business, but especially marketing and sales, is to be able to differentiate oneself.”

Any significant expansion, as a rule, represents a significant risk, but the greatest risk is to take no risk at all.”

Dr. Fischer has been a mentor to many, but he says he’s prou­dest “when I can teach someone the value of employees. I often say that companies are not made of concrete, glass and steel, but of people serving people, and I use that message when I talk with others, especially young startups.” As for his own mentors, he cites Jim Cummingham, a close friend and well-known Utah businessman who became one of Dr. Fischer’s patients in his sixties. That’s the kind of low-key choice you’d expect from someone who has always looked beyond the establishment for inspiration and ideas.

Those winning ideas have made him. In addition to Astringe-dent and Opalescence, there’s ViscoStat hemostatic, Ultrapak cord, Peak Universal Bond, the VALO curing light and Gemini dual-wavelength diode laser. However, Dr. Fischer doesn’t dwell in the past. “I am most proud,” he says, “of that which has not been invented yet.”

Incisal Edge was founded to recognize the power of positive influence, clinical achievement, ingenuity, innovation, entrepreneurship and giving. Dr. Dan Fischer represents all of the above. We proudly welcome him into our Hall of Fame—a living legend who’s still teaching dental students, and still a passionate hands-on R&D man, after 46 years at the company he built. —Edward Kobesky

Dominick P. DePaola

Renowned and progressive educator, researcher, author,
dental school dean and nonprofit leader

IN A PERIPATETIC CAREER spanning more than 40 years, Dominick P. DePaola served as dean of three dental schools, president of two international professional societies and CEO and president of the Forsyth Institute. There was one thing he wasn’t able to do, however: quit working. In 2008, he left academia and his executive positions, but within a year he had taken a job as associate dean of Nova Southeastern University’s College of Dental Medicine near his new home in Florida. “[I] flunked retirement,” he said wryly.

Born on December 29, 1942, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, DePaola received a bachelor’s degree from St. Francis College, studied medicine in Bologna, Italy, and returned to the Big Apple to earn his DDS from New York University College of Dentistry in 1969. He followed all that with a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism at MIT, whereupon he shifted his career focus to dental research and education.

His study of nutrition and the oral cavity using rabbits led him to a variety of institutions where he became a beloved professor and dean: Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia; the University of Texas Health Science Center and School of Dentistry; New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry; Baylor College of Dentistry (during the time it joined Texas A&M); and academic appointments at both Tufts and Harvard’s Schools of Dental Medicine.

He was a fierce advocate for the role of research in the advancement of dental medicine. During his time at Forsyth in Boston, he changed its name from the Forsyth Dental Center to the Forsyth Institute to emphasize his commitment to scientific advances. Under his aegis, Forsyth stressed ameliorating or preventing oral and craniofacial diseases and their effects on whole-body health.

He also established the Forsyth Kids Program, aiming to spread resources and access to health care to needy children in the greater Boston area. (For more about the Forsyth Institute’s recent merger with the American Dental Association, see “Blended Family”)

His restlessness in retirement and the joy he took in keeping busy were no surprise to his longtime friend and colleague Michael Alfano, who after his death told Harvard that “Dom was laser-sharp, wonderfully funny, creative, impatient and amazingly energetic.
You would never take his pulse to see how he was doing; you would count the number of pumps of his right knee while he was sitting burning all his excess nervous energy.”

DePaola died on April 16, 2013, at age 70. Perhaps his greatest legacy was seeking to advance dental medical science in ways that would tangibly improve people’s lives. Incisal Edge is proud to induct him into our Dental Innovators Hall of Fame. —Keegan Bradford

Into The Dental Innovators Hall of Fame

2023: Dr. Stanley F. Melamed, Otto E. Lienhard
2022: Dr. Edward F. Rossomando, Dr. John A. Molinari
2021: Richard Saslow, Anne Eiting Klamar
2019: Esther Wilkins
2018: Dr. Francis Mouyen
2017: Dr. Rafael Bowen, David Schick
2016: Dr. Richard Pelton, Ernest Crane, Gordon J. Christensen
2015: Dr. Robert Meyer, Lucy Hobbs
2014: Dr. Jack Dillenberg, Dr. Howard Farran
2013: Dr. William B. Dragan, Dr. John V. Borden
2012: Dr. Joshua Friedman, Jim Glidewell