When Mark Konings ’83 was introduced to the full classroom of Calvin chemistry and biology students for an alumni lecture, his favorite piece of dental advice was mentioned: “Only floss the teeth you want to keep.”

The line got a big laugh, but as Konings explained his journey from Calvin chemistry major to international expert on dental impression materials, the wisdom of his counsel carried greater weight.

After a distinguished career in R&D and marketing at 3M in St. Paul, Minn., Konings is now an account sales executive in Seattle, where he meets with dentists and dental laboratories, distributors and manufacturers. He promotes and sells cutting-edge dental products for 3M—and as the holder of seven patents for dental impression materials and cements, he knows his stuff.

“Some dentists are stuck in the 1980s when it comes to using new materials,” said Konings. “Dental products have improved so much over the last decades.”

He worked for 12 years as a research chemist in 3M’s dental division, tasked with developing impression materials that can make an accurate impression of the teeth and set quickly and without tearing and then set in reasonably quick amount of time.

“This project was a complex chemistry puzzle,” said Konings. “The right combinations of ingredients had to be found and tested. As a matter of fact, dentistry has often been on the forefront of scientific research and development.”

After Calvin, Konings enrolled in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned his PhD, then went on to postdoctoral work at the University of California-Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories.

He accepted each laboratory invitation because he deeply loved the research challenges involved, but he knew that eventually “it would be time to get a job!”

That job was at 3M’s dental division, and his success with making improvements in dental impression products led to international assignments with 3M global partners.

During his time in research, Konings noted the other side of the business—product marketing and promotion—and observed that no one from the laboratory side of the equation had ever transitioned into marketing. He was determined to be that boundary breaker.

“In a way, I had been doing marketing for the past four years, but I needed the classwork to demonstrate to the company I could make the transition out of the laboratory,” he said.

Konings earned an MBA at the University of Minnesota and was shifted to national and international marketing teams, specializing in the dental cements and impression materials he knew so well.

He was responsible for numerous product launches and began lecturing on areas of his expertise: restorative, crown and bridge, and prevention products and procedures.

In 2006, he moved his family to Seattle and since then has been selling 3M dental products and helping instruct dentists on the use of the latest in composite dentistry.

“I’ve been working in collaboration with Dr. David Clark, a true dental innovator. He has revolutionized the field of restorative dentistry,” said Konings.

In addition to his sales work, Konings is on the faculty of Clark’s dental procedure academy, the Bioclear Learning Center in Tacoma, Wash.

“I’m pleased to help dentists do better dentistry,” he said. “Most dentists want to continue improving because they know they can serve their patients better and in many instances realize cost savings for themselves and their patients.”

And that piece of flossing advice?

“No question, I believe flossing is more important than brushing. And if everyone in this country flossed regularly, we’d collectively lose 80 percent less teeth,” he said.