It’s a Family Affair

Paul Feuerstein, DMD


Over the years, A-dec has continued to follow the Austins’ philosophies by focusing on the real-world problems of the dental team and delivering reliable, creative…solutions.

A-dec has been one of the most popular brands in all of dentistry for more than 50 years. When I was setting up my very first office more than 40 years ago, I was looking for the best units with durability and ease of repair. I chose A-dec Micro-Carts for all 3 of my treatment rooms. They moved offices with me and finally ended up in my garage, where they still sit, covered in dust. I know that, in a pinch, I could reinstall a cart easily and be up and running in a short time. The controls were simple: Many parts could be repaired with a small Allen wrench, an explorer, a hemostat, and ingenuity. Of course, over the years, A-dec has added technology to the chairs and units in the end product that we use, as well as in its manufacturing facility in Newberg, Ore.

What does the name A-dec mean? It all began with Ken Austin, who invented a vacuum system, and his wife Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann), who inspired him to take this invention to the marketplace and earn some money. Ken developed a novel air vacuum system (AVS #1) that used compressed air to evacuate excess water in the patient’s mouth. It was badly needed because the new air-turbine handpieces had come into dentistry, and there was now more water to deal with than just saliva. In 1964, his invention was chosen by SS White (the leading dental company at that time) to be distributed with their units, and the Austin Dental Equipment Company was born. Joan, the business expert of the duo, helped Ken to brand the company simply as “A-dec.”

The A-dec Inspire dental cabinet.
The A-dec 500 LED dental light. The A-dec 500 dental delivery system.

Seizing the opportunity to work closely with dentists to solve many of their challenges, Ken focused on developing a series of successful products for dental professionals and patients. Among his many innovations were new units that allowed a dentist to sit instead of stand, fully hydraulic patient chairs that were extremely reliable, and high-performance operatory lights. Meanwhile, Joan focused her talents on growing their business and establishing a strong company culture that thrives to this day. Together, they created the A-dec Way, comprising 15 principles that established the foundations for taking care of people, customers, and the business. As Joan would often say, “We always believed that if you take care of your people, they will take care of everything else.” Joan was active in running the business until the time of her passing in 2013. She was one of the few female corporate leaders in dentistry and received many awards, including being honored by the Oregon State Senate.

Over the years, A-dec has continued to follow the Austins’ philosophies by focusing on the real-world problems of the dental team and delivering reliable, creative, simple solutions. They looked carefully at office workflow and ergonomics and incorporated many ideas from the dental teams who were using their equipment. According to Larry Martin, vice president of product development at A-dec, “We use a customer-driven innovation process to shape the future of dentistry and patient care, utilizing multiple design disciplines and deep customer knowledge that provides unique insights and solutions. Our goal is to provide new innovations that are built on a solid foundation of quality and reliability that provides long-term value to our customers for the life of their practices.”

The patient chairs have always been preferred by practitioners due to their ultra-thin chair backs that deliver patient comfort and easy operator access. The company’s stools help with operator posture and comfort too. The new A-dec 500 LED dental light provides variable-intensity illumination with no heat or noisy fans for cooling and no need to replace a bulb. Its design, controls, and very slick high-tech appearance are impressive to the dental professionals using it and the patients staring at it during treatment. The use of amber LEDs for its “cure-safe mode” prevent premature material setting. What is also quite impressive and evolutionary are the touchpad controls of the A-dec 500 dental delivery system that allow the simple integration of handpieces, cameras, and other clinical devices. This is a long way from the air-activated switches on my original Micro-Carts. The A-dec Inspire dental cabinets also include many new tech features, such as gliding monitor mounts; additional touchpad controls; well-ventilated space for computer CPUs; and a power supply panel with USB ports and plenty of room for wires, drops, and future needs.

A-dec is also focused in the area of infection control. The sterilization center is all touch-free and includes small details, such as placing the air outlet and vacuum source in the right places, instrument driers, and more. What is most impressive is its look and design. Many offices showcase it to patients, as it exudes “clean.”

A-dec has stayed true to its roots and continues to support and service its equipment for years and years after its initial installation. I think they would still service my Micro-Carts, although there could be a parts issue after 40 years. Ken Austin consistently reminded his employees: “I always wanted to serve the dentist like he was a family member, and I never wanted to have to apologize to a doctor who invested in A-dec.” If this column seems to have a bias, I can honestly say that I have worked in my offices with the early equipment and am currently working with the new units, and I continue to be impressed. Also, as I spoke to the people at the company while preparing this column, they had a genuine feeling of passion for where they worked. The Austins’ legacy of innovative simple solutions and commitment to support has endured, and I suspect it will continue.

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