Increasing consumer awareness about the range of cosmetic dental treatments available, and their benefits, has led to surge in patient demand for these procedures in the UK.
Figures released by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD) in 2005 valued the market at an estimated £280 million, an increase of 25% compared to 2004.
It’s a lucrative part of the industry that has grown massively in recent years, bringing it to the attention of young dentists and dental students. Thanks to the rash of ‘makeover’ shows all over the television schedules it’s also probably the area of dentistry the public knows most about too.
But what is it actually like to be a dentist practising in this area? To find out we spoke to Galip Gürel, the founder and president of the Turkish Academy of Aesthetic Dentistry. We find out about his own experiences of dental school, what he thinks it takes to be an aesthetic dentist and his predictions about what the future holds for cosmetic dentistry.
Gürel graduated from the University of Istanbul Dental School in 1981, during a time of great political unrest in Turkey. However, as he explains, he and his fellow students still managed to have a good time: ‘At the time being a student wasn’t all fun because of the unfortunate terrorism situation going on. But when we were in the dental school everything was different. I’ve got many fun stories from my time spent studying there.’
Asked to give an example, Gürel is more than forthcoming, ‘You know when someone is lifting weights and you pump them up, encourage them, well the direct translation of that in Turkish is “gauze”.
‘One of my classmates was assisting our professor at perio. The professor was asking him to pass the knife and the stitches, for example. Then he asks my friend for some gauze and he doesn’t understand. So he stands there and says, “Professor, you are the best. You are the greatest”.’
In 1984, Gürel opened his own clinic in Istanbul concentrating on aesthetic dentistry. He chose this area to specialise because ‘something in him’ drew him towards it. Vocation may be all Gürel needed, but he believes students considering a career in aesthetic dentistry need ‘a broad knowledge of every discipline. They should have a broad knowledge of the limits of orthodontics, periodontics and maxillo-facial surgery so they will be able to visualise the end result when they see the patient for the first time.’
Before he opened the practice, he spent a period of time studying abroad at the University of Kentucky. He attributes the success of his practice to the time he spent in America. He said: ‘I came back to Turkey in the early 80s from the States and at that time everything was based on solo dental practices. Even though I might not have had any patients at all to start with, I set up a group practice and hired all the best people in their specialist fields.
‘In the beginning it was difficult to explain to patients why we were doing things differently compared to all the other practices in the area, but as the years passed they realised that one person cannot do everything. They grew to appreciate what we were doing and we’ve been very successful as a result.’
Apart from when Gürel is treating patients, he spends the rest of his working time teaching and writing books on the topic of cosmetic dentistry. How he finds the time to pluck all of the strings to his bow is simple, he says. It’s all down to discipline. ‘Discipline is seen as something of a punishment, but for me it refers to the way you program yourself. It means that if you manage your time you can allow yourself the opportunity to do hundreds of different things and still enjoy life to the upmost limit.’
He is also an advocate for the benefits of positive thinking. He said: ‘Basically, I enjoy living. I enjoy my life. I’m an early person, I wake up early everyday. I don’t mind if it’s raining or sunny because I always wake up in a very positive mood. I start my day like this and everything seems to go perfect.’
On the topic of aesthetic dentistry there’s no doubting that Gürel is an authority figure and well placed to predict what he thinks the future holds for the industry. He said: ‘I think in the future the focus will be on how to create the most natural looking, rather than the whitest and brightest smiles you can. I think we also have a duty to educate our patients that really white teeth are not the most aesthetic outcome.
‘When you have some treatment, people on the outside should not realise what you have had done. Instead it’s better if they wonder if the patient has had a facelift or something. They’ll be a new brightness in the face, but they shouldn’t realise that it is because of the teeth.’
Still to do
There’s no doubt that Gürel has achieved a lot during his 25 years in the industry and learnt a lot. To the dentists of tomorrow, the best advice he says he can pass on to them is the same as his father gave to him.
He said: ‘He always told me that no matter what the conditions were, I should always honour my patients and that I shouldn’t necessarily be the best dentist in the world, but whatever level that I am, I should achieve and make the best that I can do. I also tend to treat my patients as if they were my own family. I treat their mouths as if they were my child’s mouth. It helps to make my approach to my patients very conservative, but also caring too.’
When asked what has been his proudest moment in the profession, he cites the publication of his book and the surgical techniques he has developed. These, he says, allow you to ‘leave something behind when you retire.’
However, he’s keen to point out that although he’s been in the industry a long time, he’s still got things he wants to do and these are merely his biggest achievements to date. He said: ‘You should always have ambitions. If I’d said I’d “made it” that means it’s over. Because you lose your motivation, you lose your passion and it all becomes very ordinary and boring. When you do anything without passion, it’s difficult to make it successful.’