The best; day-in, day-out

The future for Vermilion is to double-down on its unswerving commitment to referring dentists and their patients

21 June, 2021 / indepth
 Will Peakin  

It wasn’t the best of times to launch a new venture. Ten years ago, the world was recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. Banks were unwilling to lend, and landlords were only interested in businesses with a robust trading covenant.

“Directors’ guarantees were even required for the hire purchase of dental equipment,” recalls David Offord, founder of Edinburgh-based Vermilion – The Smile Experts. “My property lawyer at the time was working two days a week, there were so few transactions taking place.”

David remembers the mix of emotions he experienced: “The first few years were exciting and scary in equal measure. But Grant Mathieson, Madeleine Murray, Colette Ballantyne and I were a great wee team and we backed each other to make a success of this new venture. That we set out our stall to be referral-only seemed commercially crazy to the bankers, but that fundamental principal has been key to our success in attracting referrals from the dental community.”

The first few years were exciting and scary in equal measure

A decade on, and David is energised about what he and the team have achieved — and their plans for the future. “I am excited about Vermilion being an independent referral clinic surrounded by corporates. We will see what direction private equity-owned dental chains take over the next few years,” he said.

“I am lucky to work with eight clinicians — prostho, perio, endo, ortho, implant maintenance, and now also paediatric — and two hygienists, across Vermilion’s three sites in Edinburgh and Kelso. We are a tight group. Referral dentistry is very demanding, and we do work hard, but we know that we’re making a difference, and derive a lot of personal and collective satisfaction from the patient outcomes we see.”

David Offord

A supporting cast of 12 dental nurses and 12 staff takes a lot of managing: “I am very grateful to general manager Kay MacMillan for her calm leadership,” he added.

He also paid tribute to the companies who have supported Vermilion, including IWT Dental Services, who provide the perfect blend of ergonomic design, functional equipment, and adaptable IT infrastructure, and NV Design, specialists in making dental clinics easy to work within, patient areas comfortable and safe, and practice interiors beautiful.

Also, Southern Implants, a leading provider of unique and innovative dental implant products with a focus on top-end professional users who want more choices, and Planmeca, whose 3D ProMax classic CBCT has been one of the driving forces for the practice with its ability to provide 3D diagnostics in-house, helping to deliver the very best in patient care all under one roof.

Plus Systems for Dentists, who offer the best in dental practice management software, focusing not only on clinical practice but involving the entire practice team in the planning, running and management of the dental business.

David graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1994, spent four years in NHS general dental practice, then two years GDS in Australia and Singapore. In 2000, he moved to hospital-based oral and maxillofacial surgery positions, over a six-year period, in North Wales, London, Forth Valley and Fife.

In 2001, he attained MFDS from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and in 2007 was recognised by the General Dental Council as a specialist in oral surgery. He spent five years working between Edinburgh Dental Specialists and the Edinburgh Dental Institute before founding Vermilion aged 39 in 2011.

“I am not one of those people who claim to have been driven from a young age to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “But through my thirties I realised that I wanted to run my own business, and hopefully make a difference.”

Highlights from the past 10 years? “I am really proud that we have trained more than 20 referring colleagues to regularly restore their own patients’ dental implants, bringing variety to their day and new income to their practice,” he said.

“Also, building our Kelso practice out of the ground in 2018 — a stunning clinic in a beautiful location, and a £1m investment in the Borders’ dentistry. The delivery of our popular biennial symposiums, which we started in 2017, have also been a great achievement. Each brings together our referral community, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming them to our next symposium, this autumn, at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.”1

Vermilion’s clinic in Kelso

What has it been like for him, personally and professionally? “I enjoy it. The blend of clinical and business development really works for me. After a day of admin, I am so happy to get my gloves on the next day and see patients. I am still delivering eight sessions a week, doing mostly implant surgery, which I love. As a business leader you have to make decisions, and I hope that over the 10 years I have made more good ones than bad. I always look to do the best for my staff, our referring dentists and their patients.”

How has the past year been for him and the practice? “I shudder when I think back to March 2020 and the tumultuous months that followed the abrupt closure of all dental practices across the country. Shutting down a viable business is not something you expect to experience. It took six weeks.

“Then there were two weeks of sitting, wondering. And then, when the regulator Healthcare Improvement Scotland gave the go-ahead for private dentistry to continue, another eight weeks to set it back up again.

“But a year on, we are starting to see many positive changes emerge as a result of the experience. Video consultations have been a game-changer; the imperative to reduce the number of patient appointments means each visit must be planned and impactful. We can’t keep the next patient waiting, so we must work to time!

“There’s also been increased patient availability, and increased uptake of treatment plans. Patients really want to get on with it, and the sooner the better. There’s a real sense of people wanting to invest in themselves.

“There have also been many positive impacts on dental teams. Our surgeries are now immaculate; obsessively cleaned countless times a day. Many dental professionals were beavering away in poorly ventilated rooms, but now we have up to 10 air changes per hour. Above all, there is the feeling of the team pulling together throughout, and a rediscovered appreciation of our jobs. That we can go to work, interact with our colleagues and patients, and have validation that our skills have helped someone, is very rewarding.”

Looking to the future, David said: “The team at Vermilion is committed to a digital implant workflow and we are going through that transition at present with the aim of eliminating implant mal-positioning as a complication from our clinic.

“We aim to set up a removable prosthetics dental laboratory in our Kelso clinic, which will again be fully digitised. There is also the exciting collaboration with orthodontic specialist, Dr Aman Ulhaq, with whom I have launched our sister company, Vermilion Orthodontics.”

Speaking to David, it’s clear that he has a laser-like focus on Vermilion and on achieving excellence in the service it provides to referring dentists and their patients. “The future for Vermilion is to double-down on our commitment to do our best for referring dentists and their patients — day-in, day-out,” he said.

1 Vermilion Biennial Symposium, 1 October 2021, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Email for more details.

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