Premium on skills in a lucrative market
Success in the growing specialty of implantology demands a rigorous approach to training to enhance your professional reputation
“Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for “
It is often said that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Perhaps that could be the mantra for dental specialists operating at the high end of the market, particularly those offering implant surgery.
While this kind of high-end work operates in a relatively small market at the moment, growth in the UK and other European countries is exponential. There is no reason to suspect it will be any different in Ireland.
During the financial crisis, the dental profession took a hammering. Already averse to any kind of ongoing preventative dental care, the population pushed it to the bottom of the essential-costs list.
The minimal free care offered through the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) and managed by the HSE disappeared in 2010. The state of the nation’s teeth continued to deteriorate.
“It’s a self-regulating market, as is pricing. Patients will vote with their feet. If they feel the prices are too hIgh, they won’t come back “
Skills and experience
The McCarthy Report led to re-entitlement for an annual examination, scale and polish, two fillings and extractions. This basic service covers about 80 per cent of the adult population. The scheme is provided free for Medical Card holders and at a minimal cost of €15 for most people, including the recently added self-employed.
The key to the developing implantology marketplace lies with having the right skills and experience, but most of all with reputation, word of mouth if you like.
There are full-time masters and PhD courses available at University College Cork and Trinity College as well as dozens of UK universities, but it is the training providers able to offer practical learning within a well-equipped surgery that are attracting applicants.
The Association of Dental Implantology (ADI) is a registered UK charity dedicated to providing the profession with continuing implant education and the public with a greater understanding of the benefits of dental implants.
The recently installed new president, Abid Faqir (pictured left), practises in Govan, Glasgow. He is emphatic about the need to make training much more practical, rather than purely theoretical. Academic skills won’t be enough. Faqir argues that by far the most important in this context is a competent, empathetic, enthusiastic mentor who can teach and share experience with the learner.
“Mentoring is one of the most important aspects because you build your skills and experience in real-life situations.
“It’s not realistic to think you can add implantology onto your sales pitch without having built up the appropriate skills level. For one thing, no insurer is going to cover your practice without adequate evidence that you are competent to provide the service.
“I think it’s a self-regulating market, as is pricing. Patients will vote with their feet. If they believe the charges are too high, they won’t come back. If a dentist is too busy, he may be charging too little. If his waiting room is empty, he may have been deemed incompetent or too expensive. Reputation and word of mouth is hugely important.”
Faqir says: “There are huge opportunities across Europe for developing what is really a fairly new market. Not only can it be financially advantageous, it can be incredibly rewarding to see a patient’s confidence returned.
“I highly recommend implantology as a development choice for dentists going forward.”
Patients want to come into a place that offers a service that is friendly, experienced and safe
“People want and need to feel that they are getting close, personal attention and understanding “
David Murnaghan, of Boyne Dental & Implant Clinic, in Navan, Co Meath, is preparing to deliver a new one year course to a cohort of six qualified dentists starting in September.
“What I’m hoping is that my course, as opposed to others that are academic and university-led, will have a lot more of a ‘hands-on’ approach. People can watch me doing this kind of specialist work in real life so that the students can work first assisting and then with me assisting them. I think that too many courses are just training in the theory and don’t put the emphasis on actually carrying out these procedures and understanding the challenges.
“The people enrolled on the course are all Irish and working in Ireland. When they return to their home practices, they will therefore still be able to access help and support readily, including for other members of their team, so that we can develop the skills and understanding on an ongoing basis.”
Dental tourism may represent an element of competition for the local implant marketplace, but Murnaghan is sanguine: “Like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. What about your ongoing aftercare? What if something goes wrong? Supposing you are unhappy about treatment you received, then how can you seek resolution? How many trips to Bulgaria or Hungary are you going to need to make?”
Faqir is also unconcerned, though for different reasons: “I have friends working in places like Dubai, Eastern Europe and other countries and some of them are absolutely superb. People do need to understand precisely what they’re letting themselves in for. There will perhaps be several return trips.
I don’t have any problem at all regarding dental tourism so long as the patient understands precisely what they are doing.”
For Murnaghan, access to the surgery, to the expertise and also, crucially, to a range of state-of-the-art equipment forms part of his premium offer. Why go abroad when such high- quality treatment is available close to home?
Murnaghan says setting prices is down to reputation: “My opinion would be that there should be a huge difference in price. That’s absolutely right. People are getting what they pay for and that means who has the technology and the experience available to give them the results they want without any fear of the unknown.
“It’s a mistake for the media to keep comparing prices and complaining. Each should be valued for what they are and what they offer. They are not all the same.”
Faqir agrees with Murnaghan and believes categorically that: “Costs find their own floor. There is no need to impose government controls.”
Murnaghan adds: “It is very difficult for a patient to assess who will be good, experienced, reliable, safe and able to offer really excellent services. Normally, certainly here, it’s word of mouth that brings in new patients, not advertisements on the internet. Reviews of a practice matter a lot because they are independent comments about treatment received.
Finally, Murnaghan warns, do not neglect the importance of how your practice looks: “Crucially, patients want to come into a place that is friendly, is clean, freshly decorated, calm and thoughtfully laid out. I always think the state of your toilets tells patients an awful lot about your hygiene in the surgery! People want and need to feel that they are getting close, personal attention and understanding.”
Access to advanced technology and equipment is a major factor in offering a premium local service