Our eyes are only an inch or so away from our teeth. Yet the optical and dental industries exist in seemingly separate universes.

Perhaps parallel universes would be more accurate. Both optical and dental produce large amounts of highly customized products that serve both functional and cosmetic purposes. We have an intimate involvement with these products, since they go on or in our face, and therefore are an essential part of the image we present to the world. Most of us are quite careful about the eyewear we choose and about how our teeth look, not to mention how well they both work.

In addition, both eyecare and dental expenses are often covered by managed care plans. Consequently, the type of coverage patients have typically determines how often they see their optometrist or dentist, and what types of products they purchase from them.

I know of several technology transfers from dental to optical. One involves a tracing unit that was used in a dental lab and was adapted for frame and lens tracing. Another involves a special soldering machine also used in a dental lab, but adapted for soldering frames.

I bet there’s a lot ECPs and optical lab managers can learn from dentists and dental lab managers, and vice versa. Since there is no formal communication between our two industries, at least not that I know of, I suggest an informal exchange of ideas. Invite your local dentist to your office or lab for a talk. Let him or her know that you want to learn more about how they serve their patients and how they manage and promote their practice. Exchange trade publications with them and read up on issues affecting dental professionals. If you’re an ECP, you might want to even explore the possibility of cross promoting your practices. After all, some of the large eyecare clinics now offer multiple healthcare specialties under one roof. If optical and dermatology can co-exist, why can’t optical and dental?

The optical-dental connection may be deeper than you think. It’s time to see what one profession can teach the other.

Andrew Karp, akarp@jobson.com