When Dr. Scott Yamaoka's dental practice in Vancouver reopened following the three-month COVID-19 lockdown, he grew frustrated with the personal protective equipment, specifically the face shields, that were available to him and his staff.
None of the face shields on the market had enough clearance for his dental loupes. So he took to his garage and set out to come up with something better -- the Loupe Shield.
Yamaoka made the prototype by cutting a safety helmet in half, gluing a handful of magnets onto the rim, and adding a piece of acetate plastic. After his son Zach Yamaoka, an engineer, took interest in the project, they fine-tuned the design. Nearly 60 prototypes later, the design is now available to dental teams.
"Dentists can feel confident as they protect themselves and equip their teams," Scott said.
A game changer
The Loupe Shield not only provides room for loupes but also offers improved clarity. The visor material is coated with a proprietary technology originally developed for iPhone screen protectors, Zach said.
Compared to standard face shield plastic, the technology used in their shield provides 10 times less reflection. It weighs just 173 g -- about the weight of a Frisbee disc -- and allows for 98% light transmission, compared with 87% for other shields.
"This allows the dentists to see their work with near perfect clarity and reduces eye strain," Zach said. "It also allows the dentist to use their light behind the shield as the material eliminates any glare."
It features a fully adjustable head harness with a top strap, which means the head harness sits on the head instead of squeezing it. The shield contains a hardness layer for scratch resistance and creates less waste, Zach said.
"We have had dentists using the face shield for the past three months, and they still do not foresee replacing the plastic at least for another three months into the future," he added.
Developing the idea
Looking at industrial shields for welding and construction, Scott was inspired to use a safety construction helmet in his design.
"We had one at home, and the benefits of the secure head harness provided the foundation," he said. "The brim allowed for the space for optics and lights."
Cutting the helmet in half allowed him to adapt the rim so he could secure magnets. He thought about the magnets on his refrigerator and guessed that they could keep a sheet of plastic in place if they were strong enough, the dentist said.
Visor plastic was not available anywhere, so the clinician turned to acetate plastic, like the type used with school overhead projectors that he remembered from his grade school years.
"Fortunately, they still sold it, but disappointingly its clarity was not ideal," he said.
Once Zach became involved, the clarity was no longer an issue. He improved upon his dad's original design by simplifying the attachment method, moving to a square rim to provide better optics, developing a harness that was adjustable in multiple dimensions, and applying a coating to the plastic to improve durability and clarity.
"One of the comments we receive most is that people forget that they are wearing the shield," Scott said.
Crossing the finish line
The invention has taken off in a short time. In December 2020, Health Canada authorized for the shield to be distributed in the country. Since its public product launch in January 2021, hundreds of shields have been sold to dentists and their teams across the country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently issued an emergency use authorization for the shields, so they are now available in the U.S. In the future, the father-son duo hopes to sell their shields worldwide.
In the meantime, assembly has already outgrown Yamaoka's garage and is now occurring at another location.
"It seemed to be a productive use of time and mental energy during the shutdown and gave me solace in that I could control a small part of my destiny and outcome from the pandemic," Scott said.