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Interview: “Dentistry hasn’t really experienced this kind of change in a long time”

Dental99's technology-centric approach to dentistry means that patients are able to book appointments directly through a dedicated app. (Image: BlurryMe/Shutterstock)

Though Australia has a free and nominally universal healthcare system, the exclusion of dental services from this scheme means that the cost of primary dental care remains unregulated. To combat this, a number of dental practices have begun to operate under a fixed-price model designed to make dentistry more affordable and accessible to the general Australian population. Dental99 is perhaps the leading light in this field, in part owing to its offering of all general dental treatments for A$99. Having started with two practices in June 2019, Dental99 has already expanded to 13 dental practices across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and is planning to continue to grow, according to its co-founder Dr Gamer Verdian. Dental Tribune International spoke with Dr Verdian to find out more about the company and its approach.

Dr Gamer Verdian, Dental99 co-founder. (Image: Dental99)

Dr Verdian, how did the idea for Dental99 come about?
After having completed different types of dental continued education, a business partner and I decided that it was time to do something unusual, something different. So we went to Harvard Business School and took a course about building and sustaining a successful enterprise. The course was taught by the father of disruption theory, Prof. Clayton Christensen, and we learned about how companies like Uber and Netflix have managed to upturn their industries.

Afterwards, we were sitting in a restaurant discussing the course and we realised that dentistry hasn’t really experienced this kind of change in a long time. All of the recent technological developments are geared towards the 20% of patients who can afford high-end treatment, leaving very little for the rest of society who find the rising dental fees too expensive. So we came up with the concept behind Dental99 there and then and soon realised that the only way we would be able to put it into practice was by building something that had never been built before.

For us, this involved partnering with a tech company to build a patient management system as well as a range of apps and a back-end tech infrastructure. It took a little bit of time for Dental99 to become operational, but we were able to launch it in 2019 and it has really taken off from there.

Part of Dental99’s selling point is that patients can receive dental treatments and even tooth fillings for just A$99—well below the average cost of these treatments in Australia. What enables Dental99 to offer services at these prices?
I’d say it comes down to our use of technology. Everything is booked through our Dental99 app, which means that our human resource costs are really low compared with other dental practices. We don’t have any receptionists, treatment coordinators or practice managers—we’ve built an infrastructure that supports the clinicians and dental team as well as the patients without needing to use a traditional dental model. This doesn’t mean that we compromise on quality though—since we, as the management team, are dentists ourselves, we know that you can’t exist as a healthcare provider without offering high-quality services. There have been a number of budget dental brands that have come and gone in Australia, and we don’t want to follow suit, so we have a particular focus on offering quality treatment and delivering patient satisfaction as well as providing an unmatched user experience when it comes to using our app.

Whereas price is a significant contributor to patient behaviour, we also believe Dental 99’s success comes from our ability to offer an excellent dental experience. We are currently developing this aspect of our business and planning to push the boundaries of dentistry through the integration of artificial intelligence and other technologies.

“We’ve built an infrastructure that supports the clinicians and dental team as well as the patients without needing to use a traditional dental model”

Since your bookings are all made through the Dental99 app, have you found that your patients are younger and more digital-savvy than the average Australian dental patient?
That’s what we thought was going to happen, but it hasn’t necessarily been the case. Our largest patient bases are 28- to 35-year-olds and 50- to 60-year-olds. Basically, if you can use Facebook, you can use the Dental99 app, and we all know that pretty much all grandparents and parents are able to use Facebook now. So I think this has shifted our thinking because almost every age group has evolved rapidly with the digital age.

If you have a patient who needs an implant, a wisdom tooth extraction or a greater level of restorative work done, do you refer them to a specialist?
Initially, we generally referred these types of patients to another specialist. Over time, though, enough demand built up on both the patient and clinician side of things to make us realise that we had to begin to offer more major dental services as part of our treatment mix. When the patients form a relationship with the practice, with their clinicians and with the brand, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to be referred to another clinician for something like root canal therapy.

Do you think Dental99’s approach is one that could be replicated by other Australian dental practices or even international dental practices?
It’s definitely not a model that only fits the Australian dental industry, and we’re actually now in the early stages of considering locations and regional cities to which we can expand the Dental99 concept internationally. We built our technology to be able to support 1,000 dental practices, not just 13, and we are presently in the process of investigating whether in certain countries, like the US, there’s the right economic and dental climate in which this can work.

Editorial note:

According to the 2020 Survey of Dental Fees conducted by the Australian Dental Association, a simple filling can cost up to A$275, whereas 9News reported last year that the average dental visit costs approximately A$215. As a result, about two million Australians each year either avoid or delay going to the dentist because of the financial burden they potentially face.

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