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Maven Dental’s clinical director, Dr Fred Calavassy, has seen many changes during his 30 plus years in the dental industry. He says that while new technologies offer additional opportunities for dentists, the fundamentals of caring and the delivery of dental services still apply. By Shane Conroy
After topping his year 12 art class, Dr Fred Calavassy could have taken a very different career path. Now clinical director at Maven Dental, he is glad he chose dentistry.
“Art was definitely an interest, but I’m not an artist by any means,” he laughs. “Studying art was a positive thing, because it allowed that part of my brain to develop. But I aspired to go into the profession of dentistry.”
Dr Calavassy tracks his interest in dentistry right back to his childhood. He had an uncle in Canada who was a dentist, and was hooked on the profession from a young age.
“I was fascinated by the fact that my uncle could combine scientific and artistic components in his dentistry,” he says. “I was very interested in the sciences, but I didn’t want to go into medicine. I wouldn’t have been able to sit in front of someone and say you’ve got three months to live.”
Instead, dentistry provided the opportunity to combine science with his talent for art.
“It is one of the few professions that does that,” he says. “It also mixes in the people interaction that I really love, and the fine motor skills I’ve always really enjoyed.”
Unlocking a passion for dentistry
The dental profession is fortunate that Dr Calavassy chose it over a career as an artist. The noted thought leader and educator graduated from Sydney University in 1989, and the experience unlocked a career-long love of education.
“I was involved in the undergraduate teaching faculty at Sydney University on a part-time basis, and that really expanded a love I have for teaching and passing on knowledge,” he explains. “I was also working as a clinician in a suburban practice, and loved it. Even today, after more than 30 years of being a dentist, I’m still passionate about the profession of dentistry.”
Dr Calavassy made good use of that passion when he went on to start his own Castle Hill dental practice in north-western Sydney in 1997. It gave him deep firsthand insights into the everyday stresses dentists face in the field.
“It’s a stressful profession,” he says. “We work within very small tolerances on people who often don’t want to be there, and the expectation is that the work we do needs to last a lifetime. I was passionate about finding ways to reduce that stress and improve the quality of care.”
That mission was the backbone of his practice’s success, and still forms the core of his current-day work with Maven Dental.
“After I sold my practice to Maven Dental—then Dental Partners—I was contracted to remain in the practice for a period of time, and I continued to practise there for a couple of days per week until quite recently.”
Shortly after selling his practice, Dr Calavassy also joined Maven Dental’s Clinical Advisory Board, and quickly found a new home and new passion.
“I was approached by the then CEO to take over as clinical director after the current director retired,” he says. “As a dental support organisation (DSO), we provide facilities and services to allow our practitioners to do what they do best, which is dentistry. They don’t want to be worrying about the server crashing, human resources administration, or legislative updates. That’s what we’re here for.”
A fundamental understanding
As a 30-year veteran of the dental profession, Dr Calavassy has witnessed plenty of changes. But he says the fundamentals of good dentistry remain the same.
“Patient communication, clinical best practice, and all the fundamentals of dentistry are the same as when I was taught some 30 years ago as an undergraduate. The differences are the layered pieces on top of that.”
Digital transformation has perhaps had the greatest impact on the dental industry in recent years, he says.
“Technologies like CAD/CAM systems and digital smile design processes have enhanced the outcomes dentists can now consistently achieve, and contributed to the proliferation of specialist services that are leaking down into the general dental practices.”
Dr Calavassy says that some specialist services like orthodontic treatments didn’t exist in general practices in the past to the same extent as they exist today. The same goes for dental implants.
“When I first graduated, dental implants were only sold in Australia to registered dental specialists,” he says. “Now we have hundreds of dental implant companies selling to anyone who’s willing to buy them.”
Dr Calavassy also points to a rise in the direct-to-consumer market in recent years, as well as a worrying increase in patient misinformation.
“I saw a social media influencer saying that you can whiten your teeth by rinsing your mouth with apple cider vinegar. And they had millions of followers,” he says. “Patients no longer get their information from their dentist alone. The challenge we face is that patients will come in with research from Dr Google, and it’s up to us to either agree with the information they’ve gathered, or provide them with correct information.”
Leading through COVID
Dr Calavassy says misinformation was also a major challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was Maven Dental’s role to sift through the confusion to provide clear and accurate information to the company’s practitioner network as the pandemic rapidly unfolded.
“During the pandemic there was some advice that was being provided to clinicians that was potentially not meeting the regulatory requirements,” he says. “That caused a lot of confusion. Many dentists didn’t know whether to close their practice or move to level-three restrictions.
“It was our stance at Maven Dental that we would follow the advice of the regulatory authorities, not a Facebook post or information that was coming across from other sources. The pandemic was evolving so rapidly, and we were doing mountains of research to provide clarity and the right strategy to our practitioners.
“We were constantly changing and adapting, and I couldn’t imagine being in clinical practice by myself with that additional layer of stress and without access to the overarching support we provided at the height of the pandemic, and which we continue to provide.”
The next steps in dentistry
Dr Calavassy sees a post-COVID boom on the horizon as patients return to the dentist to address issues they may have put off through the pandemic.
He also believes that digital transformation will continue to accelerate throughout the dental industry, and more rises in direct-to-consumer products will necessitate more regulation.
“I think we’ll see digital transformation expand into areas like artificial intelligence (AI). We’re looking at it in the digital X-ray space, for example. AI will essentially provide a second opinion to support our clinicians and provide more consistency in diagnosis.
“And I think our industry will become more regulated as a result of rises in direct-to-consumer products. That’s where a support organisation like Maven Dental can provide that additional layer of support to dentists.”
Dr Calavassy also believes dental support organisations will continue to grow over time, and change the competitive environment.
“The future of dentistry is exciting,” he says. “There are still some great opportunities within the industry. If we look overseas, their support organisations have increased in size, and I expect the same will happen here. That will increase competition because there will be larger players. But the fundamentals of good dentistry will remain the same—and that’s the art of communication and the delivery of quality care.”