The business of dentistry is more than just about crowns, bridges and implants. For Dr Jeremy Cheah, founder and managing director of Straits Dental Group, it is about balancing his dentistry skills with business acumen.
The National University of Singapore dentistry graduate realised his dream of owning a business when he started Straits Dental Group in 2003 after working in both public and private practice for a total of seven years.
The clinic at Orchard Road's International Building began with Dr Cheah and a nurse. On days when she could not make it to work, he had to do everything from opening doors to writing receipts.
With only two weeks of management and human resource workshops' worth of business management background, Dr Cheah sank his teeth into Straits Dental.
Through word-of-mouth advertising, the company grew. Now, Straits Dental has two more clinics located at Changi Business Park and in Tai Seng. Together, the three clinics have six dentists and 20 staff.
Despite his years of experience, Dr Cheah continues to attend courses, both local and overseas, to hone his skills further. "When I first started, I was in my 20s and many of my patients were my friends or peers. I would say, most of us had not many things to do (to our teeth), basically maintenance, cleaning, scaling and polishing. But as we grow older, there's bound to be more needs, more things that can be done to enhance our smiles."
As his customers grew older, he saw that their needs diversified with improving finances. This prompted him to "grow with them" and offer more services.
Three years ago, he obtained his licence to perform facial aesthetic treatments, which include injecting Botox, fillers and skin boosters.
To find out more about his customers' wants, he also scours the media for trends. Dr Cheah is also moving with the times in terms of technology. "One of the things that I always stress is to have the most updated equipment."
Straits Dental Group is equipped with computed tomography (CT) scanners and X-ray machines to improve efficiency and convenience.
Using a digital dental impression scanner, dentists can scan a patient's teeth and send the scan to a company in Australia. The company then 3D-prints a model of the teeth, which is used as a base mould to make ceramic crowns for the patient. The crowns arrive in less than a week, faster than the one to two weeks the traditional method of using moulds and plaster models takes.
"If we keep on searching for new things to improve and to increase our productivity through innovative solutions and state-of-the-art equipment, I think patients will be impressed."
Despite his fascination with new technology, Dr Cheah does not act recklessly. "Sometimes, I would prefer to wait and see a little bit just to make sure it is really useful and it can really be implemented in my situation before I purchase the equipment," he said.
Dr Cheah also collaborated with a tech firm to install software which assists in the charting process of his patients' teeth. This saves staff the need for another cabinet to fill with 15 years' worth of treatment notes.
Birthday wishes and appointment reminders are now also sent through text messaging, instead of on physical cards through the post.
Such constant upgrades mean that Dr Cheah and his team must be adaptive to change.
He organises regular training sessions for staff on usage and maintenance of dental equipment, which are usually conducted with the equipment providers.
Selected employees are also sent for the Nitec in Dental Assisting certification. While his younger staff tend to be more familiar with the new technologies, Dr Cheah and his older staff also try to remain open-minded. "It (adopting new technology) will take some time, but in the long run, I think it will benefit us a lot, so we are all learning."
Through The FinLab accelerator programme, a joint venture between United Overseas Bank and SGInnovate, Straits Dental is also digitalising its business processes. The Finlab programme, launched in 2015, is a business accelerator that matches the supply of innovative fintech and technology solutions to meet the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises that are embarking on digital transformation.
Dr Cheah hopes that such efforts to increase efficiency and simplify processes will allow him to grow his business. To achieve this goal, he also attends finance workshops and analytics courses to gain a better understanding of the business aspects of his company. "I used to think three clinics is enough but now I think: OK, we can go for 10."
Correction note: An earlier version of this story said Straits Dental Group was started in 2013. It should be 2003.