Former Harley Street dentist turned teeth whitening mogul to the stars, Wyman Chan hung up his drills in 2002 to focus on making our pearly whites whiter. Since then, he has accumulated a host of patents, awards and accolades for creating safe and pain-free bleaching techniques and products, which have been adopted by thousands of dentists worldwide, not to mention getting a PhD in the process. Dentistry.co.uk talks to Wyman Chan on his inspired journey, his hard work, achievements and insights, and why he thinks teeth whitening is an even more important business tool for today’s dental industry.
Dentistry.co.uk: I believe you are the only dentist in the UK to dedicate all your clinical time to teeth whitening. What inspired you to specialise in teeth whitening?
Wyman Chan: In the early 90s, I started attending seminars on teeth whitening, a relatively unknown subject in the UK at the time. Manufacturers were claiming it was possible to make teeth eight shades whiter during a new one-hour chairside bleaching session. Using traditional bleaching trays, it would have taken many weeks to achieve comparable results, so I excitedly snapped up one of these systems in 1997 and began offering teeth whitening treatments. However, the results turned out to be disappointing at best and my patients complained about sensitivity. I was frustrated by the results, but I could see this treatment had huge potentials. At this point, my research ideas were born and the foundations were laid for my future career direction. I decided to dedicate my time to research, which eventually led to my inventions.
Dentistry.co.uk: Tell us your most challenging and rewarding experiences your had regarding your career choice?
Wyman Chan: To fully commit to the task at hand, I gave up routine dentistry, along with my regular, respectable income. As the first dedicated teeth whitening dentist in the UK with an unproven concept, this was nerve-wracking to say the least and financially challenging. There were times when I feared that our budget would not see us through the project, but I just had to steel myself and venture into the unknown with gusto. If I had have looked back, my nerves would have failed me.
The most rewarding experience financially was the first time we were booked up one month in advance. I could barely believe my eyes when my manager showed me the appointment book. I don’t take those times for granted. I feel very fortunate indeed.
Dentistry.co.uk: What was the biggest lesson you’ve learnt, and if given the chance, how and would you do things differently?
Wyman Chan: There are so many subjects to learn in dentistry and in my view; you can only excel in one, possibly two of them. It’s important to choose and focus on what you enjoy doing career-wise and stick to it, no matter how difficult the road ahead may be. When I was a younger dentist, I was a Jack-of-all-trades and trying to find my direction. Then I became fascinated with the science of teeth whitening and I have never looked back.
Many eminent teeth whitening speakers around the world present bleaching as a simple process, but the more research I carry out into the field, the more I realise how complex it is. If I had my time again, I would start my PhD study earlier, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Dentistry.co.uk: Historically, what have been the biggest challenges in teeth whitening and have we overcome them?
Wyman Chan: The two biggest challenges have been making both home and power whitening safe and effective. In my research, I discovered some important phenomena in the texture of teeth, and consequently established a protocol to improve the safety and efficacy of teeth whitening processes. I have published some hypotheses on teeth whitening processes, which have helped me to evaluate the effect of enamel structure on the result of bleaching. The results of the research form the basis of my painless teeth whitening techniques and products, including Perfect Trays and the Get2smile, which won the Harper’s Bazaar best whitener award. I think we have now overcome the two greatest challenges to the teeth whitening industry. I teach this subject at Warwick University and at my master classes in central London.
Dentistry.co.uk: You have seven patents to your name. It must have been an awful lot of work. How did you manage it and what is your best invention?
Wyman Chan: By sheer determination, focus and hard work. Being a dedicated teeth whitening dentist affords me the opportunity to work on numerous bleaching cases and time to understand the problems; establish the causes and find solutions. The synergy of being a researcher and a clinician at the same time certainly helps. I was able to develop different dental bleaching methods with a determination to making the process more predictable and safe.
I am very happy with all my inventions, specially the painless teeth whitening technique. But to me, the best invention is the one yet to come.
Dentistry.co.uk: What is your view on the EU safety regulations and how can dentists benefit from them?
Wyman Chan: After years of confusion, the Cosmetic Product (Safety) (Amendment) 2012 brought clarity to and was broadly welcomed by the profession. Dentists can now use up to 6% hydrogen peroxide for home whitening legally. Previously, it was 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. It is possible to produce outstanding results using this higher concentration. With the hardened positions held by the General Dental Council (GDC) and the Department of Health on illegal teeth whitening operators, I think dentists, as the legitimate provider, should be more pro-active in offering their patients and making the case for this non-invasive treatment.
Dentistry.co.uk: Why is teeth whitening important to dentists in today’s dental world?
Wyman Chan: With ‘teeth whitening’ being a very popular term searched on Google, we know that there is a high demand for this treatment. Dentists should tap into this demand by offering proper professional treatments to patients as opposed to questionable alternatives opened to them. According to a survey carried out by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, teeth whitening is the most popular cosmetic dental treatment in the UK. With the teeth whitening market worth over £40m, offering such a service could drive a lot of patients to your clinic.
Dentistry.co.uk: Can you talk about your latest business endeavour?
Wyman Chan: I’ve just established a company in Shanghai offering my knowledge and experience to my colleagues in China. I also lecture nationwide there. The interest and enthusiasm of the dentists in China has been overwhelming, all wanting to learn how to whiten teeth safely and effectively. I will be spending more of my time in China over the next couple of years in order to develop my new business model there. The most rewarding aspect of working in China is that I can use all my inventions there as there are no restrictions on the concentration of the active ingredients the dentists can use provided the products are certified by the China FDA.