Be on the square

SMALLMark Skimming, owner and principal of the award-winning practice Dentistry On the Square tells us about constantly evolving and developing the skills of your team

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m from a new town just outside Glasgow called Cumbernauld. I spent all my younger years desperate to move out into Glasgow and when my wife became pregnant with our daughter we quickly moved back to live close by the babysitters (my parents). I had a pretty normal childhood spending most of my free time playing football. I have one older and one younger sister and both my parents are now retired from legal practice and teaching. My wife and I have pretty much been together since high school. We’ve recently had our third child, so that’s three kids under five now which keeps us busy, but they are great fun!

PD Awards 2015 Winner-HC logo-1What or who made you choose a career in dentistry and why did you focus aesthetic and cosmetic dentistry?

My Dad ushered me towards dentistry. Upon completion of my fifth year and gaining good Higher Grade results, all I was sure about was that I didn’t want to do medicine as all others in my school with the same results were moving towards. I liked the look of optometry (no pun intended) but with a number of family friends being dentists, my Dad informed me to what he felt was a good profession with an excellent work/life balance.

I never really pursued a career in cosmetic dentistry but really ended up here with my path along the restorative route.
My mentors on my Diploma/MSc course with the FGDP were adamant that there was no such thing as cosmetic dentistry, just high quality restorative dentistry. Once I felt I had a good grasp of the restorative side I became more concerned about the final aesthetic outcomes for my patients and with the bar continually being raised in this respect, it takes countless hours to try and emulate the clinicians that I admire.

Can you tell us about your training and work in cosmetic orthodontics?

I initially encountered cosmetic orthodontics through training with the Inman Aligner. The ability to make a huge impact on a patient’s smile with a minimally invasive technique really resonated with me. I started treating cases immediately but became frustrated with the limitation of only being able to offer a single appliance with limitations and my training has continued since. I then moved onto short-term fixed appliances and clear aligners and still continue to use these regularly. I am currently completing the Canadian FORCE programme and have a mentor to discuss cases with.

How important is patient communication to you and does it play a big part in your approach?

Patient communication is the key to a stress-free work life as the dentistry can be reasonably simple at times, but the personality and needs of the patient can be extremely demanding. I don’t always get it correct but the more I learn, the longer I take to assess, co-diagnose, plan and consent my cases. With the current actions of the GDC any clinician could be called to face them. I feel those clinicians who choose to work within the realms of aesthetic dentistry are more at risk of complaint and GDC investigation due to the nature of the treatment and expectations of these patients.

Communication and building relationships of mutual respect and trust with our patients can be a huge factor in preventing any complaint.

You were a winner at the PD Awards 2015 in the Best Patient Care North category. What does winning this award mean to you?

The award is great for the practice team and patients alike. Our team are always questioning how we can do more and be better at our jobs. I think the culture we have created in terms of constant development of the team is reflected in the award and vindicates the efforts made. For patients, whether they are new or long term, the award demonstrates those efforts, which in turn helps build trust, making our jobs more relaxed and satisfying.

What do you find most challenging about running a practice?

Fortunately I have a great team around me but the biggest challenge was finding them. I have made numerous hiring mistakes but hopefully learned from each. I focused too much on ability and previous experience. I have since learned that positive attitude is main factor we need to look for. I am no longer allowed to complete the first interview for any new posts – only once that process is complete and we have found someone with the correct personality, am I allowed to carry out a second interview.

What marketing tools do you use and find most effective?

Word of mouth is by far the best marketing tool we have but you have to really push this with respect to the team and our patients. It’s not an instant result like a newspaper advert or presence online. It does, however, get you the best patients. These patients know about you so much of the trust is already built and they generally have a realistic expectation of your service and of your costs. I regularly check that my clinicians are asking their patients for referrals, as due to our busy work lives many who do not develop the habit of asking are missing out on this effective way to attract new patients.

IMG_1036How do you stay abreast of modern techniques?

You can’t be good at everything and so I encourage my dentists to focus on a couple of areas where they have a passion and develop their skills. From here you need to become involved with a mentor or study group. I believe there is far more to gain from discussing the challenges and failures of our cases rather than attending seminars where extremely talented clinicians showcase their best results. I recently became the co-director of the Glasgow Dentinal Tubules Study Club.

The monthly video lecture and case discussion has become extremely beneficial to all attendees, including myself, and by developing a open culture where we discuss the biggest challenges we face, the clinicians have a realistic expectation on what they can take back to their practices the following day.

Are there any products or groups of products that you have been really impressed with?

I love all the C-Fast products. I do lecture for them so that may make me biased but between the delivery of the clinical products (clear aligners, labial and lingual ortho as well as others), the service from the lab and support (from their technicians and associated specialists) is second to no lab I have ever encountered. I am currently using their online ordering and communication platform that is about to be launched and it is very impressive. Keep an eye out for Cable Dental – I suspect the most respected labs will be using it routinely within the next year.

I’ve also got to mention Bredent. I’ve been using their Fast & Fixed system for immediate implant hybrid bridges. Their products are very innovative and have allowed me to produce the most aesthetic full-arch work I have done so far.

Professionally, what are you most proud of?

It has to be completing my MSc in restorative dentistry through the FGDP and the University of Leeds. I loved completing the diploma portion as it was mainly learning the practical aspects. However, completing my thesis was extremely difficult. I don’t think I am cut out for the world of academia and carrying out the research, passing it through the ethics committee, as well as completion of the final report was completely out of my comfort zone. I was extremely relieved when I had passed.

Where do you get your motivation and drive from?

My wife would call it my personality disorder. I am selective with what I do but when I plan on something I become slightly obsessive with it. I find it very difficult to accept poor performance and failure and I am highly motivated to be the best I can be. It must be genetic as it can be seen throughout my extended family.

How do you relax in your spare time? How do you balance work and family life?

I have cut my clinical sessions to three and a half days, one day for practice development and a half day for personal development. I feel this is the correct balance for a practice owner for optimum home and work time. My young family takes up almost all my spare time and I couldn’t be happier than when I am with them. We love a bit of sunshine – obviously that does not happen too often in Scotland, so family holidays are the highlight of the year for me. From memorable trips to Cape Town to our Easter break at Disney in Florida. I think being fortunate enough to do this with my family is hugely motivating factor for me. When not with them I’ll normally be found in the stand at Celtic Park with some of my school mates.

What lessons have you learned in the course of your career?

When I graduated I was really motivated to improve my skills to the best they can be but I didn’t feel I was suited to the politics of working in the hospital. I soon learned that some of the best clinicians themselves work in general practice and are only too happy to help you improve. You can only improve with support so you need to find a mentor. You may need to spend money on a course or volunteer to nurse for someone local but this investment in yourself will be returned ten fold.

What have been your best decisions? In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?

Definitely starting the FGDP restorative diploma. Between the lecturers, tutors, and forward-thinking people you meet on the course, it has had the biggest impact on my career. It opened up my eyes to how you can improve and follow those who are shaping our profession as it should be. If I had known the amount of work involved in completing my MSc thesis I may have thought twice about it but I am glad to say it is done.

Do you have any regrets? What has been your biggest mistake?

When I first opened my practice I had poor leadership skills. I did not appreciate how important it was to have an involved and effective team around me. I was out of touch with the team culture, but have since gone full circle and dedicate much of my time in maintaining out team culture and making sure the team are happy in their roles.

What are your plans for the future?

I am currently in the process of purchasing my third practice. I hope to increase this over the next few years and develop the clinicians to match the achievements of the clinicians at Dentistry on the Square and Dentistry on the Clyde.

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