Small business: Expanding practices - Brent Will

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Brent Will, of Hale Will Bennison Dental, dentists in Takapuna, which provides general dental services to a largely family-based group of patients

Brent Will, of Hale Will Bennison Dental.
Brent Will, of Hale Will Bennison Dental.

What new technology have you invested in at the practice?

The technique of filling teeth with amalgam has remained little changed for 120 years and results in unsightly fillings and weakened teeth. Conventionally the alternative to large fillings is to crown the tooth but this results in the further destruction of tooth tissue, and it requires multiple dental appointments to fit a crown.

Cerec is a digital system that replaces lost tooth structure with a biocompatible porcelain - it can be done in a single appointment at a fee much less than a laboratory constructed alternative. Cerec has been around for 27 years and was initially derided by large sections of the dental profession. "Fitting like socks on a rooster," was a common description.

Changing to a three dimensional platform eight years ago after ten years of clinical success, persuaded us at Hale, Will and Bennison that Cerec was comparable to gold crowns in longevity.

Cerec provides long lasting, tooth-coloured replacement of large fillings while preserving existing tooth structure. It can be completed in one appointment at a lower cost to our patients. These technology advantages were too compelling for our practice to ignore.

What kind of investment was this?

Initially our investment was $220,000 and a four day intensive training course . There has also been a commitment to continuing education - usually four to five days annually - to improve skills and to adapt to new software and hardware improvements. The hardware has a lifespan of three to five years and significant software upgrades every two years.

What has this brought the business? Is it a service you offer regular patients
or is it drawing new people in?

It only takes one Cerec to convince patients of the advantage to them and most patients are then keen to replace other large amalgam fillings in their mouth as required. It is offered to all patients who will benefit. There've been many referrals to friends and family, resulting in new patients to the practice. Marketing to date has been to our existing patient base and word of mouth.

I have one client - aged well into his seventies - who kept finding excuses to have his crowns made with the CEREC machine. He's now pretty disappointed that he's run out of teeth to fix.

How has it added to your turnover?

Cerec now comprises between a quarter and a third or our business based both on fees generated and on clinical time occupied.

Are there any other new technologies you would invest in?

Three dimensional Cone beam radiology is being used to position implants prior to surgery and integrated to the Cerec software, allowing the seamless restoration of dental implants at significantly less cost to the patient. This is a development that we are watching closely.

What has this new area of the business done for you personally and for staff?

Personally, in my fifties, it has reenergised my love of dentistry. After 30 years of drilling and filling teeth, here is some very cool technology that allows you to repair teeth to look better and last longer without demolishing what is left of the tooth. The reaction of the patients at the end of the procedure is the biggest reward that we get out of using Cerec. Any day with a Cerec appointment is a more enjoyable day.

What have you learned along the way?

Be prepared to consider new ways of doing things and assess each new advance on its merits. Dentistry is littered with technological ideas that are promoted with great fanfare promising fantastic benefits only to have disappeared five years later. Be very certain what benefits new technology is going to give you and your patients before you buy and then get all the help and further education you can to maximise your return.

Next week, we look at how SME owners and their senior staff can benefit from a good business coach or a good management course. With a plethora of business coaches out there, not all experiences have been positive. We want to hear all your stories good and bad and collect some tips on finding one who will make a real difference.

- NZ Herald

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