Hello from the first movers in direct access hygiene By Zac Fine. August 24, 2016.
We got a bit excited when we discovered The Dental Hygiene Suite because it’s the first dedicated direct access dental hygiene practice in Cornwall and one of the first in the UK.
These guys have a significant first mover advantage and are in a new space in dentistry. We asked co-owners Catherine Owers, a dental nurse and hygienist and her partner Leon Leondiades, an entrepreneur, how the first couple of months were panning out…
What kind of feedback are you getting from your customers?
The public love it. They say we’re serving a need with convenience and efficiency. We have five stars on Google reviews which we’re happy with and we’re noticing that our service is appealing to people who perhaps know they have bad gums or bad oral hygiene and they feel guilty about seeing the dentist. Today we had one patient who was very nervous and afterwards she said she felt more confident to have a check up.
We seem to get a lot of Instagram followers from abroad too and quite a lot of engagement on Facebook. We had a guy from New Zealand pop in the other day and he said he worked in a direct access practice in New Zealand and it had taken off over there.
How did you get 5 stars on Google already?
We do mention to patients that if they’re happy with our work it would benefit us if they left a review. We’ve got a Google review poster on the front desk but we’re not that pushy. If they don’t have a Google+ account we say they can do it on Facebook (if they want to!).
When did you decide to set this business up?
It was on our minds since the change in legislation in 2013 that meant people could see a hygienist directly. We realised people would want that easy access instead of always going through the hassle of getting registered and seeing a dentist first. It also circumvents the fear of seeing a dentist. Another catalyst was Leon’s main project, a multi-currency travel card and mobile wallet app called Mintlet, didn’t get the investment needed — frustrating, but it freed him up for this.
Your website is really different, who came up with that?
We wanted it to look different from all the dental websites out there, which all seem to have an identical blue, green and white branding. As it happens an old friend of ours, Andrew Shumaker, now has his own design company in London called Perfected Designs. He looked at the rest of the market and agreed it was all pretty samey so he was happy to produce something unique that positions us as different. We really like what he’s done.
What do you think the appeal of your brand and service is?
There’s no hidden agenda, you can just walk in and access the service on your terms. Sometimes at the dentist people may feel they might be roped in to buy something else when they agree to a dental treatment, and different dentists recommend different things. It’s confusing and worrying for people. Some of the trust in dentistry has been lost a little bit I think.
What’s the patient journey like?
It’s a bit like getting your hair done. It’s a relaxed environment, there’s no strong smells or drill noises. There’s music. All the equipment is new.
Apart from hygiene services do you offer anything else?
We offer dermal fillers. We’re looking at offering Botox in the future. We haven’t really pushed this side of the business yet but we’ve already had a few people interested, so it looks promising. We also offer tooth whitening and have a registered dentist who visits to carry out the pre-whitening assessment prior to myself preparing impressions for custom trays.
You’ve already posted a number of videos on your website, do you intend to upload them regularly?
Yes, we’re just putting the finishing touches to another one now actually. Our approach to video is that we simply want to use it to share information that’s useful to people, so it’s not really about self-promotion. We use it to share information on things like how to look after yourself, be healthier and free from pain.
What did you think about the Times front page story the other day saying flossing doesn’t work?
If you’re a flosser you can see what you get out of it: if you don’t floss then your gums can bleed, and if you floss they stop. People know this and dentists agree the most common area of decay is in between the teeth, so the story was probably just that, a story.
Has the demand always been there for a service like this?
Yes, in cities especially. But even here in Truro, which isn’t really a full size city. Many people are coming in and saying, “I can’t see my dentists because there’s a two month waiting list.” So the instant access and convenience really appeals to people.
Do dentists refer patients to you?
Yes dentists have been referring patients here because they’re not taking on new patients. And sometimes even if they are they might have one hygienist on their team and be trying to cram everyone into one day a week, so they can quickly reach capacity.
Nearly every dentist should be referring to hygienists for general scaling really and there is plenty more room for dentists to refer to hygienists. People are looking for direct access services but I think some dentists are fearful about mentioning the fact that direct access is now available and so it’s not being promoted enough. When you think about it people probably prefer to see the hygienist regularly and only see a dentist when they have a problem or for a check up. That’s not great news for dentists.
Do you want to open up other branches?
Yes. That’s the ambition. This is the pilot scheme and it’s here in Truro because we know Cornwall, being from here, but if it can work here it can work anywhere. We do need to capitalise on our first mover advantage though.
How hard was it to set this business up?
The CQC requirements were massive. It’s the not knowing that was the problem and it took at least six months of work. Then we had the CQC inspect our paperwork, premises and certificates and we were interviewed. Now it’s all done and it’s transferable.
Do you see plenty of hygienists following in your footsteps?
There will be more but probably not so many at first because of the time commitment and the paperwork to set up. A lot of hygienists may prefer to work in an existing dental practice or enjoy the flexibility this profession awards their lifestyle. Running a business is tough and start up even more challenging. Fortunately in our case Leon has taken care of the marketing and back office which has made it work.
How many chairs do you have?
We only have capacity for one chair. There’s not much space, so another chair means expanding to another premises. The plan is to get this one going up to full books first of all — we need to make sure we don’t overstep the mark on operating costs.
“We got a bit excited when we discovered The Dental Hygiene Suite”
Zac Fine, content director