Dentistry Done Differently

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A dental practice in Blackburn is making dental treatment a relaxing experience under the leadership of Dr Ved Berani and his team.

Dental fear affects up to one in seven Australian adults according to a research study published in the Australian Dental Journal, making going to the dentist an activity that many of us have come to dread. Dr Ved Berani, the founder and principal dentist of the Healthy Smiles Dental Group, speaks to us about his journey in dentistry, and mission to put patients at ease, offering them the best experience possible.

Q: What inspired you to take up dentistry?
VB: Well, dentistry runs in my blood. My father is a practising dentist still at the age of 75, and my older brother also pursued dentistry, so I grew up in a house where we had this medical and dental background, with my mother being a GP. So, growing up watching my father pursue his passion in the dental field, I found my passion there too.

Q: How did you get started?
Initially when I graduated, in 2004 I worked at another practice, but quickly realised that I couldn’t work for anybody else because my philosophy, my motivations and my ability to take on other people’s emotional problems weren’t the same as the others. When I saw an advertisement in a journal for a dental practice in Blackburn for sale, I bought my first practice!

Q: What is your dental philosophy?
VB: Most dentists treat gums, cavities, they treat the problems inside the mouth. We don’t treat the mouth, we treat the people that come to us. There’s a huge difference in that because connected to all those problems are people’s emotions, their fears, their anxiety and the stigma around dentistry, and if we don’t work on that you will never change the person’s perspective, and the problems will keep coming back. I thought, well I could be like any other dentist and ‘Drill, Fill, Pill’, or I could be the person who thinks – how do I avoid drilling in the future, and save this person, not only just financial but all emotional and social issues down the track? The driving force, the core philosophy is patients first, people first and teeth later.

Q: How is your practice different from others?
VB: When you enter our practice right in bold letters on the reception front there is ‘Dentistry Differently’. We aim to do everything a little bit differently for our patients. We practice what we call emotional dentistry, which is about people, their emotions, how they feel, and how they can change their feelings towards dental problems and dental treatments and it’s a way of taking on issues in terms of their long term health and goals.

We have a special pain-free system in which patients can be numbed up having to have a jab, which is not available in all practices. We use 3D scanning and 3D printing in our practice, which only about 5% of practices in all of Australia have. We use sleep dentistry for the phobic patients for the patients who gag, who can’t sit in the chair or who’ve had bad experiences associated with previous impacts of poor dentistry.

Q: Why do patients get anxious of having dental procedures done, and what do you do to alleviate patients’ anxiety?
VB: Dentistry historically has been a barbaric profession, it was used as a form of torture in World War 2, and prior to 25 years ago, it was conducted by dentists who had little compassion, and anaesthetics were not as broadly used. In the outback of Australia, people used to get drunk and then go to the dentist so that they could have their teeth ripped out. The dentists used to chain them down before performing the procedures! The reason lots of older Australians haven’t been in for 30 years is that they had gruesome experiences.

If an anxious patient comes in, we never take them into the dental room in the first place, we take them to a lounge, which is a non-threatening environment, to have a chat, win their trust, and listen to what they have to say rather than tell them what we are going to do so that we know exactly what it is that triggers them, and solve that. For some patients, just telling them at every step what we’re doing makes them feel better.

It might be as simple as noise-cancelling headphones, or blankets for patients in the chair to make them feel comfortable. We use lots of pawpaw gel and pampering for our patients to make them feel like they’re not in a dental practice they’re in a spa, and these little bits and pieces reassure the patients and give them the confidence to return. The real reason that patients postpone their dental work is not really money, money may be a factor, but most often it is the fear.

Q: What has changed about your practice during the COVID, and how are patient concerns affected?
VB: We have been very proactive about this since early February. Patients need reassurance and they need somebody with authority and credibility to tell them what they can or cannot do in terms of oral health, so instead of quarterly newsletters, we decided to start doing fortnightly updates.

Considering that the COVID is a virus that starts from your mouth, dental is the number one scare-factor out there right now, and patients are worried about transmission. We’ve taken our high sterilisation and infection control process up by even more, we’ve introduced screening procedures for patients, and constantly use alcohol-based disinfectants and N95 masks which we specially source for our team.
About 80% of dental practices have closed temporarily to avoid transmission. We have to be there for our patients when they need us, so at no point in time in the last six months has our practice been shut down. Even when we had level-three restrictions in Melbourne, we were operating emergencies-only all day every day. The practice was seeing at least 12 to 13, emergency patients a day, out of which only 50% were our own, 50% were patients from the general public who needed a dentist for pain control and relief which they couldn’t get anywhere else

Q: How do you see your practice evolving and changing over the future?
VB: I can only see the practice growing from here and the three main reasons why I think it will grow, are the enhanced customer experience we offer, innovation and technology, and the ability of patients to take on long-due dental work because of sleep dentistry.

Starting from a single-practitioner practice in 2004, which quickly became a two-practitioner practice, and 16 years later employs 10 practitioners and over 25 staff, Dr Ved equally attributes the success of the practice to his wife, Priyanka Berani, who looks after the day-to-day running of the practice.

‘From my perspective, she’s an equal partner in this whole organisation, she’s the nuts and bolts of the business and the oil that runs the machine smoothly, Dr Ved says.’

As a self-confessed phobic patient herself, Mrs Berani said ‘I’m the one who looks at it from the patient point of view. What would I expect if I was a patient in the chair? How would I expect the receptionist to be? Because when most people come in, they don’t want to be at the dentist, however, they need to be at the dentist What I’ve learned is that if you do the right thing by a patient, regardless, you’re going to be successful.’

Staying true to their philosophy, their success has won them many awards, which include the Whitehorse Small Business Award in 2018, nomination for IABCA ( India Australia Business and Community Award), and earning the finalist positions in both the Whitehorse Medium Business Award in 2019, as well as the Australian Small Business Champion Award 2020.

Believing in ‘service above self’, Dr Ved and his practice donate regularly at the Gurdwara, extended free dental emergency care for all Indian students during the Indian student crisis, are the chief sponsors of the Blackburn Bowles club, co-sponsors of the Whitehorse community festivals, and conduct dental check-up camps for local primary schools.

It’s not easy to destigmatise dental processes from their relation to pain and anxiety, but with a dental team like Healthy Smiles Dental Group that’s dedicated to actively listening to and providing solutions for their patient’s fears, you can be assured that you are in safe hands!

By Shivani Prabhu