Guy Hiscott talks to dentist turned implant entreprenuer Jason Buglass about breaking down barriers and bringing treatment to the masses
It’s often said that the most successful dentists have something of the entrepreneur about them. After all, clinical excellence is all well and good –but it’s your business nous that lets you put it into practice. Jason Buglass is no stranger to this concept. A successful private dentist with a string of general and referral practices around Telford, his entrepreneurial streak is perhaps a little wider than most. He also happens to be the head of Implantium, an implant import and supply company, and the brains behind Dentale, a rapidly expanding training business with a difference. Jason has big plans – plans that include becoming the biggest implant company in the UK in the next five years. No mean feat, considering that the majority of practitioners in this country are unlikely to have heard of Implantium.
Until Jason came along they barely did any trade in Europe, let alone the UK. But that’s all set to change. Of course, it has to if he’s to knock the big boys from their perches. Accessibility is the name of the game. Jason makes no bones about the fact that to achieve any of his targets he has to grow the whole implant market, but he sees no reason why it can’t happen. He explains: ‘About 100,000 implants were placed in the UK last year – a country with a population of about 60 million. Italy has a similar population, but last year more like 700,000 implants were placed there.’ Jason is convinced that it’s a matter of cost. He says: ‘If you look at the prices in Italy, they’re half what they are here. ‘Cost is a big factor. If you look at the national average income,then £3,000 is a big chunk of that. There’s going to be a limit on how many people can afford it at that price.’
A new approach
This is where Dentale – a training clinic that makes up Jason’s first line of attack on the market –comes in. Offering patients lower cost treatment on the understanding that it’s a training procedure, the clinic is proof that affordable implants don’t have to mean a trip to Turkey. Its raison d’être is two fold, although which aspect you see depends a lot on where you’re coming from.
For patients, it’s a means to an end. They aren’t interested in whose implant system is being used, nor do they mind that they’re being taught upon. In fact,they’re often downright happy about it, says Jason: ‘They know and understand the teaching environment, and they often like the idea of having somebody there who’s very experienced.’ They may not care where the implants come from – but they do care about saving money. For dentists, the clinic offers a somewhat different take on the established approach to implant training. It also does its bit for Jason’s other company, Implantium, by training dentists in the use of the system. Jason explains: ‘I was really uncomfortable with the idea of mentoring – not with the principle, which is great, but with the practicalities, which are fraught. I thought that we could get everybody in the same place instead. The patients know what’s going on; they expect to be taught upon. You have to give them an incentive – in this case it’s cheaper treatment.‘The dentists want to learn implants. They’ve done the theoretical side. They come along to us and, over about five months, spend 10 days at the clinic following these patients through. ‘It’s all structured; all you have to do is drag yourself there and pay the fee. Chances are that you’re going to put around 25 implants in and follow several cases up. You leave with a DVD and your logbook completed – having done a lot of practical work and with sky high confidence levels as a result.’
Dentale arranges everything for its dentists; even down to sourcing the patients. Dentists start off simply doing the treatment plans, which allows them to do the easy cases first and delay the more complex cases until their skill levels and confidence are where they need to be.
The idea is to avoid the ‘week long course syndrome’ – whereby dentists leave having placed a single implant but fail to follow it up. Preliminary training is an essential pre-requisite for entry to Dentale, and with good reason. There’s not really any theory on offer; aside from tutorials, it’s practical work pretty much all the way. Jason argues his methods offer an unprecedented level of support for dentists; allowing them to push themselves further than would normally be safe. He’s identified a further benefit too: ‘Because the patients are absolutely clear that it’s a training environment, it becomes a lot easier to turn around and ask questions without undermining your relationship with them.’ The training cost for dentists is around £500 per day. Patients see a saving of roughly 50% on their treatment – and as a result, demand is high, with a 200-strong waiting list. Virtually all the patients at Dentale are there for cost-related reasons.
Cutting out the middle man
High demand for treatment is great, but it doesn’t hurt his business model that he’s the implant company as well. Dentale is supplied by Implantium at cost, meaning the clinic gets even cheaper implants, while the implant company gets more sales and a ready-made user base to boot. This is the other side of making implants available to more people– offering dentists cheaper products to begin with. Implantium, according to Jason, charges around 40% less than everyone else. So how can it be so cheap? He is blunt: ‘It’s really running things on a more business-like basis; a bit more intelligently and keeping the costs down. My honest opinion is that implant companies are able to charge what they do because that’s just how it’s always been.’ He claims Implantium is more streamlined, avoiding unnecessary expenditure. In some areas that’s as simple as limiting dentists’ credit – the longest customers can take to pay is 30 days. In others, it takes things like a more innovative– and minimalistic – approach to its sales force. It avoids cold calling and takes sales reps out of the equation entirely, opting to do product demos remotely. Jason estimates that the business saves something like £70,000 for each rep that he doesn’t employ. He is adamant too, that cheaper doesn’t have to mean lower quality. He is earnest when he says: ‘It’s the best system I’ve come across. Of course, I would say that – but everyone who’s used it says the same thing.‘ The quality of the manufacture is excellent, but the way the system is thought out is better too. I reckon it saves me about 20-30%of my time compared to other systems. There are lots of small things that add up to make a real difference.’
Leading the change
Jason is hoping that his own combined efforts will add up to force a sea change in the industry. He doesn’t see any reason why the UK implant market can’t catchup with the rest of the world, stressing: ‘Implant dentistry doesn’t to be particularly difficult– you have to understand what you’re doing, and you have to understand your limitations and work within them. But that applies to any other form of dentistry.’He’s confident for the future, despite the scale of the targets he’s set himself. ‘Change is coming,’ he says. ‘It’s not just Implantium; there are a lot of other implant companies coming into the market. It’s going to happen whether I’m here or not– I just want to be at the front edge of it.’