The Fulham Dentist has been a fixture in the neighbourhood for more than half a century. Rupert Basham speaks to owner Dr Sarveen Mann about patient loyalty, the NHS and modernising dentistry.
PRACTISING dentists often find themselves having to defend their corner when it comes to their profession.
Apparently, to some a trip to the dentist still conjures up an ominous image of a masked face hovering above while hands wield frightening electrical tools.
While to some extent that image is largely true – ominous wielding aside – one local dentist is passionate about changing people’s perceptions of his industry.
The owner of The Fulham Dentist, Dr Sarveen Mann, prides herself on offering a more personal service, with an emphasis on building relationships.
“It’s quite an intimate area we’re working with so it’s important that you build a relationship with the patient,” said Dr Mann. “At a lot of the bigger, more corporate practices, patients can go in and get passed round several different dentists. We’re not like that.
“A lot of patients are very nervous when they see a dentist so if you've got time to sit them down and talk to them, they respond to that.
“That’s one of the reasons we left the NHS and became private because although the NHS is fantastic, it comes with a lot of red tape. So you find yourself not having time for the patients and we wanted to change that.”
The Fulham Dentist went private in the late 1990s and although a backlash was expected, it never occurred.
“I’m sure we had people who were upset about it,” said the 46-year-old, “but I don’t remember walking in the next day and not having any patients.”
Based in Dawes Road, The Fulham Dentist has been a fixture in the neighbourhood for more than 50 years.
Dr Mann started at the practice in 1990, as an associate dentist to principal Dr Rhoda Adams.
In 2008, having started her family of three boys with her banker husband Javaid Ali, she decided to buy the practice from Dr Adams, who now works as an associate.
The Isleworth resident said: “I’ve always worked at the practice, but I had my family in the interim period. During this time I still dabbled, working part-time. It’s hard for dentists to completely stop because it affects your confidence, but I got to that stage where I wanted to immerse myself in the business. It was a sink or swim situation, so I decided to swim.”
Since taking over, Dr Mann has changed the direction of the Fulham Dentist, following a more proactive approach in seeking out patients and embracing social media.
A prolific tweeter, she has found using sites such as Facebook and Twitter has appealed to existing customers and potential patients, and has helped the image of the business.
She said: “It was actually my personal trainer who got me into Twitter. At first I didn’t get it but then I realised it was a great way to communicate with people and build relationships. People think dentists must be serious and not human, but it’s breaking down that stereotype.
“I don’t go on Twitter and preach that people should be doing this or that with their teeth, it’s very light hearted, there’s no hard sell.
“I’m also certainly not in the business of poaching patients. If someone asks me for my advice I’ll tell them to see a dentist, I won’t automatically try and book them in with us. But we are a business and the days of expecting people to turn up is over– you have to be proactive about things and sites such as Facebook and Twitter do help.
“It’s also helped us to build relationships within Fulham with other businesses.”
Since taking on the practice, Dr Mann admitted she has felt the economic pinch, but her patients have remained loyal and now things are back on track.
“I think we’ve all been affected,” she said. “People need their teeth looked after but if they can put things off, they will. We’ve seen a lot of our patients suffer because of this. But things are beginning to look better, more people are aware of us, thanks to things like Twitter.
“We have to adapt and change but the bottom line is we’ve been here this long because of the loyalty of the patients.
“We even have some who have since moved from the area to places like Australia and Scotland but they always make an appointment whenever they’re in London, and that speaks volumes to us.”
l Follow Dr Mann @FulhamDentist or visit www.thefulhamdentist.co.uk.