Kick starting a private practice in the midst of a recession might be a challenge too far for many. However, back in 2007 this was just the situation Chris Edmonds found himself in, as he took the decision to move away from his NHS contract. Seven years later his practice is thriving and he has few regrets.
Graduating from Newcastle University in 1981, Chris came into practice ownership perhaps a little later than some of his peers, taking on Sedgefield Dental Practice as a sole practitioner in 2006. At this time the majority of patients were NHS with only a few private services on offer. However, Chris quickly realised that it would be difficult to offer the level of care he wanted under the terms of the NHS contract and so in 2007, Sedgefield Dental Practice became a fully private business. Chris admits: ‘Operating as a single-handed practitioner was particularly tough at the start. I wanted to offer patients the best possible standard of care at the most convenient times. With the help of a practice plan we slowly increased our patient numbers. When the recession hit it became far more challenging to retain patients and encourage new patients to attend the practice.’
Despite the tough economic times, Chris and his small team have never compromised on the service offered to patients. ‘I see dentistry as one of the most up-close and personal services offered on the high street, so the importance of building trust with my patients is paramount. We pride ourselves on being a warm, friendly and personable team. Our patients say they really value being welcomed and treated by the same ‘real’ people every time they visit, rather than somewhere where the staff are constantly changing.’
Keeping up the profile of the practice in the digital media has also been a priority for Chris. In May last year the practice launched its new website to keep patients up to date with results from patient surveys, dental news, special offers, new treatments and changes to opening times and services. This is just one way of keeping the practice in touch with existing patients and reaching out to prospective new ones. In addition Chris also produces a quarterly newsletter containing information about the practice, treatment promotions and useful dental health tips.
Often the practice team can be found at community events and wedding fayres in the local area, promoting good dental health and raising awareness of the practice and its services. They are also keen supporters of National Smile Month, the UK’s largest oral health campaign. Last year the team took their stand, toothbrushes and toothpaste samples to the local Sedgefield Mediaeval Fayre. Chris reports: ‘The weather was superb and the interest shown from the visiting families in our information, fun and games gazebo could not have been better. Throughout the day the stand was a popular stop for many. The competition to win an enormous teddy bear and a complimentary hygiene treatment proved very successful. Many took away information on the importance of a good diet and oral health together with smiles on sticks, balloons, pens, stickers and sugar-free lollies.’
Equally successful was the Brush-A-Thon organised by the practice in conjunction with Trimdon Infant School, where the children participated in two minutes of sponsored brushing. The team took along examples of tooth kind and unfriendly snacks and engaged the children in discussion about each. The event raised valuable funds for the school and awareness of the importance of twice daily brushing and diet in good dental health.
Regular visits to the dentist are key says Chris, who advocates six monthly appointments for his patients. ‘If you want to influence behaviour then you need to stay in people’s minds. Less frequent visits can result in being “out of sight, out of mind” and may mean that patients slip back into old habits. As well as providing the treatment required our aim is to offer patients encouragement and coaching in techniques.’
Whenever it is appropriate Chris keenly promotes the use of an electric toothbrush. Using an Oral-B Triumph 5,000 power brush demonstration unit, he is able to show patients correct brushing techniques and recommend the right type of brush head from the many available in the range. He is confident in his recommendation, basing his judgement on the evidence that rotating and oscillating movement can be highly effective with the right instruction. When inviting patients for recalls, the practice proactively asks patients if they would like to try an electric brush and where the response is positive, a demonstration is incorporated into their dental health examination.
With a vast range of toothpastes to choose from, the Sedgefield team keenly promote Oral-B Pro-Expert with its stabilised stannous fluoride content. Chris is happy to direct his patients towards a product that is scientifically proven to be superior. ‘Just because toothpaste is an everyday commodity, sold in every supermarket, doesn’t mean it should be purchased in the same way as a bar of soap. Patients need to use the product that offers them best protection and in my opinion I believe Pro-Expert to offer outstanding results. We want to provide patients with the confidence and know how to take control of their own dental health.’