Interview: “I would love to inspire more women to get involved in digital dentistry”
In November 2019, 24 female dentists from seven nations received Dentsply Sirona’s first Smart Integration Award for visionary treatment concepts. One of the winners was Dr Alison Simpson, a general dentist from Rothwell in the UK. She was honoured with the first Smart Integration Award for sharing her story of success in using the digital workflow. In this interview, Dr Simpson told us about her background, discussed changes in the dental industry and shared her ideas about technology and the future of the dental practice.
Dr Simpson, what challenges did you encounter when setting up your new clinic in 2015?
I really enjoyed designing the clinic because I was able to learn from past experience, for example, when creating the best patient flow throughout the clinic. Furthermore, I enjoy rising to a challenge. I took an old shell of a building and put my own individual stamp on the place in every detail. I’ve always invested a great deal of time in new technology, and we were fully digital from the outset. With digitalisation comes a considerable amount of new software and even hardware. Although this was quite overwhelming at the beginning, I knew it was the best thing to do. It was a huge learning curve. However, it is very satisfying and fulfilling when you reach, or get close to reaching, the top of that curve.
Could you tell us a little bit about the employee structure that you have within the practice?
My whole business model is very much a team-based one, in which the patient regards us all as a team, and does not just focus only on me as the dentist. I want my patients to feel that they are, in a way, part of that team, part of the family and part of the community that we are trying to build here.
Initially, I needed to onboard the right personalities to create that team and that family. I knew I needed the right assistants to drive forward the digital workflow and to really understand my vision and why it is so important to me for the patients to have a fantastic experience.
So you put a key focus on long-term relationships and adherence to treatment plans?
Yes. I felt that the key to growing the business was by creating an environment where our patients wanted to be there and wanted to come in and see us. My aim was to get away from a clinic that looked like a dental clinic and to make it feel more like a boutique hotel. In my clinic, there is much more emphasis than usual on emotion and on meeting the patients’ needs. I want my patients to feel that they are being cared for, not just from a dental perspective but also from a supportive, emotional one.
Regarding adherence to treatment plans, we believe that by delivering on our promises from the start of any treatment and creating expectations that we can meet by using structured and tailored plans is crucial in order to build patient trust and to create that supportive cushion we strive for.
“I believe that digitalisation is really about to take off, and I find it an incredibly exciting time to be in dentistry”
What would a cross section of your patients look like in the area in which you are practising?
We have a relatively diverse demographic. I feel that people who come here value not only our clinic but also their own dental health. We find parents bringing their children and also older patients trying to maintain their dental health. We have patients who are looking for a complete smile makeover and those who only want to tweak what they have. We have patients who are wealthy and also those who have to save money in order to afford the smile they have always wanted, a smile we can deliver.
Do you find that patients are better informed now than in previous years?
Absolutely. When I graduated, I felt as if I needed to educate patients and give them their options. Nowadays, it is so much easier for people to do their own research into treatments in order to know what is available and where it can be found. It is easy to find the right person who can provide the service that a patient wants on the internet. Patients now know what they want before they see us, but this was not the case 20 years ago.
Does digitalisation play a major role in the UK? Do you expect it to move in that direction in the future among dental professionals?
Yes, I believe that digitalisation is really about to take off, and I find it an incredibly exciting time to be in dentistry. I am so glad that I am part of the movement. As for digital dentistry, colleagues who do not yet use intra-oral scanners should embrace this technology or they will soon be left behind. Patients are now aware of the benefits of digital dentistry, and I think it won’t be long before they seek out the dentists who use digital dental technology. In a society increasingly driven by quick or even instant results, where everyone is becoming their own brand representative, delivering quick results and showing people what their smile could look like is crucial. If dentists are not onboard with this move, they will be left behind.
With concepts like the Smart Integration Award, Dentsply Sirona aims to bring more women’s ideas into the field of dentistry and to create a network for women. There are more and more women dentists and dental students in dentistry, and that trend is continuing. Is this something that you’ve observed personally in the UK?
Even when I was at dental school about 20 years ago, there were more women than men in dentistry. I think it’s just taken a while for companies to catch on to that fact. However, what surprises me is that lectures, workshops and digital symposiums are primarily male-dominated, even as far as the audience is concerned.
I find it worrying that women don’t participate in or even go to these conferences. I always ask my colleagues why they don’t want to attend. Many of them are just too busy because they are looking after families or working only part-time. I would love to inspire more women to get involved in digital dentistry. I find it quite upsetting that many women are not involved in this field.
“Digital dentistry, by its very nature, offers far greater rewards to those who approach it with a team mentality”
How did COVID-19 affect dentistry and your work in relation to patient care? Did the role of digitalisation change? Does digitalisation now play an even greater role?
Like every aspect of life, COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on our clinic and on dentistry as a whole. Since reopening, the focus has been on keeping the staff, the patients and our families safe. This was not only in terms of negating as far as possible any chance of catching the virus but also in terms of making people feel safe in the clinic, so that we could continue to provide our renowned care with minimum stress. My team was flexible and supportive, so I didn’t feel alone in the decision-making.
Same-day dentistry treatments were, and are, increasingly reassuring for patients, as the volume of traffic through the clinic continues to go down. Patients have reduced both their own and our risk of infection by completing their treatment in one appointment. Additionally, there has been a huge uptake of SureSmile treatment, the whole process of which is digital.
In many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated the uptake and acceptance of new digital processes in the dental world. We have been able to reduce face-to-face consultations and offer virtual meetings, and patients find these more acceptable owing to increased convenience and time efficiency.
Do you have any specific goals, either within dentistry or otherwise related to your career and business?
I would like to inspire other dentists, both male and female, to get onto the digital pathway because I have gained so much fulfilment from it. I know from my own experience how much it can enhance a patient’s treatment journey. My key piece of advice for those seeking to get into digital dentistry is that they should try to surround themselves with team members who have the same goals and desires. Digital dentistry, by its very nature, offers far greater rewards to those who approach it with a team mentality. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the team that I had around me on my digital journey.
Editorial note: The new application period for the Dentsply Sirona Smart Integration Award 2021 began on 12 April. More information about the accolade and registration can be found here.