Wednesday 17 January 2018

Restoring smiles to faces

Ed O Flaherty talks to Sean Gallagher about setting up Ireland's leading cosmetic and dental implant clinic

Sean Gallagher with Dr. Sarah Flannery and Dr Edmond O Flaherty in the Seapoint Clinic Blackrock. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher with Dr. Sarah Flannery and Dr Edmond O Flaherty in the Seapoint Clinic Blackrock. Photo: David Conachy
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

A smile is a type of universal language we all understand no matter where in the world we come from. By simply smiling, we can light up our entire demeanour and quickly convey a sense of confidence to those around us. However, for some people who have lost teeth or have ill-fitting dentures, smiling can be difficult. Self-conscious, they try hard not to smile or cover their mouths with hands when they do. That is until now. Advances in dentistry and particularly the development of implants has now made it possible for almost anyone, irrespective of how long their teeth are missing, to have their smile corrected or restored.

This week I met up with dentist Ed O Flaherty, who along with fellow dentist and business partner, Tom Linehan, co-founded Seapoint Clinic in 2007. Located in Blackrock, Co. Dublin and with over 40 staff, the Seapoint Clinic has now become the leading and largest cosmetic and implant dental practice in the country.

As I arrive to the clinic, I am immediately struck by the atmosphere and décor of the place. Complete with soft furnishings and scented candles, this is unlike any other dental practice I have ever visited. In fact, it feels more like a boutique hotel than a clinic. Staff are immediately engaging, incredibly friendly and refreshingly professional.

"We differ from many regular dental clinics in that our patients don't come for the usual filling type procedures," explains Ed. "Instead, we specialise in life changing dentistry where we help restore comfort and confidence to those who have lost teeth or may be finding it difficult to chew as a result of lose or poorly fitting dentures," he adds.

Their work largely involves placing dental implants. Made from the purest forms of titanium, these implants are man-made roots that are placed in the jaw and used to anchor new teeth or to create greater support for dentures. Implants can be used to replace crooked teeth or to replace noticeable gaps where one or more teeth have been removed. Used successfully for over 40 years, these implant are now the closest thing to a real tooth that can be found. With correct maintenance, implants have been proven to last a lifetime

"Our work really is transformational in that it transforms the lives of our patients," insists Ed.

While they cater for both men and women right up to 90 years of age, the majority of patients are women in the 50 plus age bracket. Many of these will have had some or all of their teeth removed in the 1950's when at that time, it was relatively common to have your teeth removed and a denture fitted.

"Our job here is to restore their confidence and their ability to eat properly by giving them an improved look as well as a more permanent and secure solution," he goes on.

With a staff of 40 including dentists, hygienists, nurses, receptionists and treatment co- ordinators, the clinic also undertakes all other types of dentistry from fitting braces and veneers to carrying out crowns and root canals.

"In addition, we also have our in-house own dental laboratory ensuring a fast turnaround time for patients. This means that we can make teeth and have implants placed all on the same day thereby eliminating the anxiety of patients having to wait until their next visit to get these fitted. We appreciate too that many people, possibly as a result of previous experiences, will be fearful or apprehensive about going for dental work. That's why we work hard to provide the highest standard of customer care possible," he adds.

And it shows. From the environment to the staff, Seapoint Clinic really is a benchmark in customers care.

Ed O Flaherty grew up close by in Blackrock where his father worked as a doctor. He studied Dentistry at Trinity College before heading to London where he spent the next two years working for a large corporate practice.

"The high standards of treatment as well as the level of customer care was an approach that really appealed to me and something I thought Ireland was crying out for at the time," recalls Ed.

Returning to Ireland, he bought a small practice in Dun Laoghaire and immediately set about growing his client base.

It was while undertaking a course in implant technology that he met up with his old friend and former school mate, Tom Linehan. Originally from Sutton in Dublin, Tom had attended the same city centre secondary school as well as being in the same class in Trinity.

"During our travels to the USA and Europe to undertake advanced training, we saw some amazing clinics. Here, a patient's entire dental needs could be met at one combined or centre of excellence," explains Ed.

"This really inspired us because, up to that point in Ireland, most dental practices were one-man-bands often located 'over a shop' and were pretty basic in terms of what they offered. We really wanted to change that," he adds.

However, they would have a few hurdles to overcome. The first of these was finding the right location for their new clinic. Cognisant that many patients would be travelling from across Ireland for treatment, they finally chose their current location because of its accessibility to the Dart and road network.

"After a positive initial meeting with the planners in the area, we went ahead and bought the premises as well as over a half-a-million euros worth of equipment," explains Ed. "We could not believe it then when we then got turned down for planning permission. Eventually Bord Pleanala gave permission but it was an incredibly frustrating period because we had a 100pc loan on the building and a lease on our existing premises that was rapidly running out," he adds.

In the beginning, the pair were also at a huge disadvantage because clinics in place from Northern Ireland to Hungry, were advertising in Ireland but they were prevented from advertising at the time due to restrictions on advertising by the Dental Council of Ireland due to the medical professional nature of the sector. Thankfully these restrictions were eventually lifted allowing them to promote their services to the public.

"We are very passionate about what we do and we want people to know that there really is a better and more comfortable way for people to live than having to wear dentures like our grandparents had to," explains Ed. "Our objective is to give our clients the best dental experience they have ever had. Everyone who comes here comments on how friendly our staff are. That`s no accident. That's because we only hire the best people who are themselves passionate about customer care and looking after our patients," he insists.

And it definitely seems to be working with more than 60pc of their business now coming from word of mouth from satisfied customers.

Now approaching 10 years in business, what's next I ask?

"We want to continue to expand and are planning to open a second clinic next year, this time outside of Dublin. We are also looking at opening our first clinic in the UK possibly in 2018 or 2019," he explains enthusiastically.

Having spent the morning in Seapoint Clinic with Ed and his colleagues, I can see that the standard of care is on a par with anything I have seen internationally while their level of customer care is what you might expect from a five star hotel.

When it comes to finding examples of best practice in either dentistry or customer care, I think Seapoint Clinic stands head and shoulders above the rest. I can't help but think that there are many other business around the country in a whole range of different sectors who could learn a great deal from what Ed and Tom have managed to create here.

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