As dental spas continue to thrive, practitioners such as Dr Camelia Furlan are discovering a more satisfying model than the old drill-and-fill. Kerryn Ramsey investigates
Despite technology advances, most patients don’t relish a trip to the dentist. Conversely, the dental spa concept continues to flourish. Here, a visit to the dentist becomes a relaxing, pampering experience with an ambiance reminiscent of a sophisticated resort. The interior adds a touch of sophistication with luxe upholstery, all topped off by citrus-scented essential oil, meditation music and a range of quality skincare products on offer. And to complete the experience, patients can now discuss treatments that will give them a Hollywood smile, as well as wrinkle-free skin and perfect lips.
It’s so inviting, patients are suddenly keen to get their regular check-ups.
In Australia, dental spas are thriving and one of the innovators is Dr Camelia Furlan who runs Dentique Dental Spa in Mount Lawley, WA.
“I’ve always been a pioneer, trying to drive change and move with the times,” says the cosmetic dentist who’s been in the business for 25 years.
She opened her inaugural practice in late 2016 after honing her craft in a practice in WA, plus continuing professional development in—naturally—Los Angeles, as well as other institutions in the UK and France. While one of her most popular procedures is Invisalign, the practice also offers anti-wrinkle treatment, computerised complexion analysis, anti-wrinkle injections, dermal and lip fillers, chemical peels and anti-ageing skincare products.
“Invisalign is so popular, and we are privileged to have the Invisalign concierge refer to us,” says Dr Furlan—the first solo general dentist Invisalign Diamond provider in WA (‘Diamond’ refers to the number of Invisalign cases the accredited dentist has completed).
While clear aligners and veneers have become a popular choice for patients of all ages, Dentique Dental Spa offers many more options—“the finishing touches”—as Dr Furlan calls these. “Once we fix the dental problems, we work on the skin itself—in other words, we start from the inside out.”
Treatments include chemical peels, dermabrasion and threadlifting, which are minimally invasive procedures designed to gently raise sagging brows, cheeks and jowls. “It’s like a mini-face lift without the surgery,” explains Dr Furlan. She also sells the Melbourne-owned SkinCareRx range which “regenerates beautiful skin and treats skin conditions while diminishing wrinkles”. The products, which require a prescription, are paraben-free and fragrance-free with a high concentration of active ingredients.
Around the world, professional regulators such as dental boards and dental councils differ widely in the stance they take on particular issues.
“I’ve always been a pioneer, trying to drive change and move with the times.” Dr Camelia Furlan, founder, Dentique Dental Spa
Up until October 2014, the policy of the Dental Board of Australia (the Board) stated that the use of neurotoxins, such as Botulinum toxin (Botox) should be only used for treating a range of temporomandibular joint disorders. In December 2015, however, the Board issued a new fact sheet, entitled ‘The use of Botulinium Toxin and Dermal Fillers by Dentists’. It expects dentists to perform “only those dental procedures for which they have been educated and trained and are competent”, completing ongoing CPD “that contributes to the development, maintenance and enhancement of knowledge, skills and performance”.
The Australian Dental Association further says that “the Board made it clear that dentists and specialists can use these medicines, including botulinum toxin, as long as they adhere to these requirements and any issued by other regulatory bodies such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration”.
It notes that dentists are also expected to ensure their professional indemnity insurance include the use of these medicines as well. In addition, “the use of these procedures by prosthetists, hygienists, dental therapists or oral health therapists is not allowed, being deemed to fall outside of their scope of practice”.
After the new standard was announced in late 2015, Dr Furlan decided it was time to follow her dream—opening her first practice. At that stage, she could see cosmetic dentistry as a niche market. “The niche is really people like me, at my age; women who want to look younger longer. In my later years as a dentist, I wanted to learn more about fillers and anti-wrinkle treatments. I simply added that to my ‘dental toolbox’.”
After graduating at the University of Western Australia in 1994, she became one of the first dentists advertising for practising ‘cosmetic dentistry’ in WA. She honed her craft at Image 21 which she opened in 1998 in the affluent suburb of Nedlands, being the first “cosmetic medical and dental centre” in Perth.
“Back then, this was a sensitive issue for the dental profession as we were not allowed to advertise that we did cosmetic dentistry,” recalls Dr Furlan. “Some of the local dentists complained but it inspired me to make changes by seeking parliament help from local MPs and fight to change the Dental Board’s legislation in WA, as it was in other countries, and as it had already changed in the eastern states in Australia.”
During her years at Image 21, Dr Furlan took on further CPD in Australia and overseas. It started in Los Angeles in 1999, when she undertook intensive cosmetic dental training with Dr Cherilyn Sheets and then in Melbourne with Dr Derry Rogers. She followed this by training with numerous international trainers such as Dr Christian Coachman (from Brazil) on digital smile design in Indonesia and with training in facial aesthetics in London at the Bob Khanna Training Institute, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne with the Australian Academy of Dento-facial Aesthetics.
When Dr Furlan began searching for a perfect location to open her debut cosmetic dental practice, she eventually discovered an expansive office space that was being leased. “I knew I had to start from scratch, as I had to design the practice to suit my needs. I knew that no place like that existed,” she says, before describing a layout that includes a treatment presentation room, photography room and seminar rooms. “Previously, I was doing educational seminars in the reception area which could only fit up to eight people. The new practice allows seminar space for up to 40 guests.”
“Unfortunately, you don’t know how passionate a prospective employee is until they start. They either have it or they don’t.” Dr Camelia Furlan, founder, Dentique Dental Spa
When she hired interior designer Helena Farrell, Dr Furlan had one request: “I wanted to give the space some ‘bling’. Her dream has certainly come to fruition. The two-storey building stands out with a glowing neon Dentique Dental Spa sign in vibrant purple. Above the marble reception counter is a series of shapely chandeliers, and during the in-chair whitening procedures, patients have TV screens.
Beyond baby boomers
While Dr Furlan first assumed that a large percentage of her patients would be 40-year-old-plus females, she’s been surprised at the results. “I thought I’d have 90 per cent women, 10 per cent men but it’s actually about 60/40,” she says. She’s also amazed at the number of younger patients who are committed to prevention. “They don’t wait until they’re in their thirties or forties anymore.”
Other patients attracted to the practice are those who have anxiety issues or low self-confidence.
Taking care of business
Although Dr Furlan had been working as a solo dentist for the past year and a half, she recently hired another practitioner, as well as an oral health therapist.
As the business continues to expand, she’s found that dealing with human resources is a time-consuming process. “It’s a beautiful thing to have the problem of growth but at the same time, it requires a lot of effort to invest in new staff. It’s exhausting,” she admits.
Dr Furlan has found that it’s difficult to find the perfect candidate, even after doing face-to-face interviews. “Unfortunately, you don’t know how passionate a prospective employee is until they start. They either have it or they don’t.”
Given how much cosmetic dentistry has already changed over the past 20 years, will there be still more advances in the near future? “There certainly will,” says Dr Furlan. “There will be a reduction of the analogue systems—for example, dental material impressions. Digital impressions with cameras and digital techniques for treatment planning for orthodontics and implant dentistry are here right now. It’s an exciting time; it truly is.”