I’m so pleased to share with you that Nicholas Keung of the Toronto Star has just published an article in about our 2015 Jamaica Dental Outreach Program. Here’s a link to the article on the Toronto Star’s website, which appeared on the front page of the “G” Section of the Toronto Star on Boxing Day (December 26, 2015), as well as in Star Touch for those of you with iPads (with a couple of pics from our trip). FYI, if you’re interested in learning more about the 2015 trip, check out this blog post here. If you’re interested in volunteering / donating to our worthy cause, please contact me (Michael Carabash).
Nicholas Keung, “Toronto lawyer gives poor Jamaicans something to smile about:Michael Carabash leads team of Canadian dentists and hygienists in running free dental clinics in rural Jamaica”, Toronto Star (December 26, 2015), G1.
Jamaica often puts a smile on the faces of Canadian tourists. But this time, it was a group of Canadians saving the smiles of impoverished Jamaicans.
Toronto lawyer Michael Carabash was lounging on a beach in Negril on his birthday last year when he bumped into a group of British and American dentists running free dental clinics for local residents.
He made a birthday wish that day to return to Jamaica this year with a team of Canadian dentists and hygienists in tow.
Carabash, whose law firm specializes in dental practices, and the team of 30 volunteers he recruited through his clients and contacts, spent a week hosting three clinics in rural Jamaica for hundreds of locals who couldn’t afford a simple extraction or basic dental care.
“We had people lining up at the gate in early morning. They all had dire dental needs,” said Carabash, whose volunteers were supported by Great Shape Inc., a facilitator of humanitarian projects in the Caribbean, and the Sandals Foundation, which provided accommodation.
“In rural Jamaica, they have one dentist for 100,000 patients. It’s very inaccessible. Many have very little education about dental care.”
Mississauga dentist Fadi Swaida is no stranger to volunteering at free dental clinics, having run similar endeavours for low-income and homeless people in Winnipeg while studying at the University of Manitoba. However, the experience in Jamaica was an eye-opener, he said.
“I did 70 teeth extractions over five days. It was hard because it wasn’t perfect clinic conditions. There was no light. It’s so hot we had to stay hydrated,” said Swaida. “In Canada, we help patients get care. There, we just try to get people out of pain.”
Melissa Brunette, a hygienist from Gatineau, Que., said she did 14 cleanings during her eight-hour shift each day at the free clinic and was surprised to see gum and teeth problems in teenagers that one normally would only expect to see in people in their 60s.
While many of her young patients had really clean, white teeth, looking under their gums revealed tartar and big cavities, she said. A quick lesson in proper flossing followed.
“They didn’t do it right because no one ever taught them how to do it,” she said.
Brunette said it took the volunteers some time to adjust to the makeshift clinics.
“We had suctions that weren’t working well. I was wearing this frontal light on my forehead, so I could see inside the patient’s month. I could only move my eyes, and not my head. Otherwise, I couldn’t see,” Brunette recalled.
“But it’s all worth it. I received so many hugs. I feel like the number one hygienist in Canada, because now I appreciate my work that much more.”
Brampton’s Catherine Nguyen was among five University of Toronto dental school students who joined the mission.
“We could only do one procedure per patient, but sometimes people needed multiple. It was hard to limit treatments, since we wanted to give everyone comprehensive care,” she said. “What was most gratifying was seeing people smile. It’s a great learning experience on so many levels.”
Not only is Carabash already planning the next mission, he said he is raising money for a permanent volunteer clinic there.
One week in Negril, Jamaica
2,142: Patients seen
752: Cleanings provided
1,406: Teeth extracted
548: Filings performed
302: Fluoride applied
Wow! Just two weeks ago, I was featured in the National Post (front page) for my commentary about the dental industry. I’m pleased to announce that I was interviewed by Alex Ballingall of the Toronto Star for his article entitled “Dentists offer perks while facing increasing competition for customers“.
Here’s the article:
Alex Ballingall, “Dentists offer perks while facing increasing competition for customers: higher numbers of dentists mean practices are resorting to glitz, glam and old fashioned gimmicks in a skirmish for customers”, Toronto Star (8 April 2013), Section: Life / Health Wellness.
Two dentists, one neighbourhood: Dan Pisek remembers it well.
The dental marketing consultant had a client who decided to attract new customers with a discount on teeth whitening.
A few weeks later, the dentist down the road put out a better discount. So Pisek’s client doubled down, deepening the savings. And so on, and so forth.
“All it takes is to have two such doctors on the same road,” said Pisek.
The skirmish, which happened five years ago, is representative of Toronto’s “hypercompetitive” dentist scene, where more and more doctors are clambering for customers who often have healthier teeth, thanks to practices like water fluoridation.
“I don’t want to say there’s (a dental office) on every corner, but it’s getting there,” said Pisek, who has helped dentists market their services for 13 years.
The result is the increasing use of marketing gimmicks to rake in clientele. This flips the common feeling, spurred by doctor shortages, that patients are lucky to land a medical professional. When it comes to dentists in the GTA, they are lucky to have you.
“I’ve seen practices that when you walk in, they look like spas … You’re sitting in a vibrating chair, watching TV and being offered an espresso,” said Mike Carabash, a Toronto lawyer specializing in the industry.
There are nearly 15 per cent more dentists in Ontario now than there were in 2001, according to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario. A November report on the economics of dentistry for the Ontario Dental Association says the patient-to-dentist ratio in the province has dropped 13 per cent since 2002, down from 2,277 people per dentist to 1,992 in 2011.
Part of this is because schools continue to pump out hefty cohorts of dental graduates. In 2001, 251 new dentists were certified as general practitioners in the province. A decade later there were 332 new certificates.
The situation is compounded, according to the economic report, by aging practitioners working past retirement age, and foreign-trained dentists, who often set up shop in urban centres like Toronto.
Dentists trying to start new practices in the GTA are “the most at risk, the most concerned,” said Carabash. “They need clients ASAP. It takes a while to figure out how to retain patients.”
Things aren’t rosy on the demand side either. The report predicts that over the next decade an increasing percentage of patients will pay for dental care out of pocket instead of with insurance—up from 45 to 55 per cent. This could be problematic, given that incomes have stagnated for the majority of Canadians since the early 1980s, the report notes.
In urban areas like the GTA, overhead costs for running a dental clinic are higher than average—with the price of equipment, employees and office space—so maintaining a reliable list of clients is all the more critical. “To stay competitive, you keep your fees as low as possible and you try to increase your volume,” said Natalie Archer, an established dentist and aggressive marketer whose Runnymede Dental Centre caters to a niche market of seniors, offering extras like shuttle service and home visits to get clients.
She also described how the mindset of the profession has changed in recent decades as competition for clients heated up. “Dentistry has always been a business, however I think our profession in a way was taught or thought that by thinking like a business they were embarrassed or felt unprofessional,” she said.
There also used to be more restrictions from the College on how dentists could market their services, including limits on the font size of placards and Yellow Pages ads, said Archer. “Now you’re allowed to do (almost) anything. There are no font restrictions. You can put your name on a bus.”
In this context, dentist review websites like SearchBookSmile.com have popped up to help the public land a good doctor. “You can definitely use the search engine to find the perks that you’re missing,” said Adam Kepecs, who launched the site last October. “If you really want to spend the time, you can find a great dentist.”
George Bashay, manager of the Simply Smile Dental Hygiene Spa, said a good way to attract the public is to create a welcoming atmosphere. His practice, which sticks mostly to teeth cleaning, offers coffee and tea to people in the waiting room. When they’re called in, they pop on a pair of slippers and take a seat in a massage chair as a hygienist chips the plaque from their pearly whites.
“It just makes people more at ease, because a lot of people don’t like coming to the dentist,” said Bashay. “We just try to make our clients more comfortable, pamper them a little bit.”
But at the end of the day, what matters most is to show the people in the dentist’s chair that they’re valued customers whose well-being is important, said Archer.
“Especially in urbanized Toronto, nobody wants to feel just like a number,” she said. “There is no substitute for personalized, excellent service.”
David Mayzel is your legal risk manager. He is a trained courtroom lawyer and has spent many years resolving disputes both in and out of court. He knows how to prepare documents and execute transactions in a way that avoids or mitigates legal risks. He can be reached at 416.528.5280. or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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