Dentistry awards special: The heart of it

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Dentistry awards special: The heart of it

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Dentistry awards special: The heart of it


Dentistry awards special: The heart of it

Sara and Mike Reece opened their third dental practice – Reece Associates Dental Care Solutions – in August 2007 and, with it, the pilot site for the Smilescool programme, a new approach to preventive dentistry for children.

A little over two years later, Reece Associates incorporating Smilescool scooped Best Practice The Midlands and then, the icing on the cake, Best Practice UK in our Dentistry Awards.

It was a win that coincided with the zenith of a  pioneering idea that Mike and Sara Reece had been developing for some time.

The initial germ for Smilescool came from Mike (53) who qualified from Guy's in 1980 and his wife Sara (44) who also qualified from Guy's as a registered general nurse in 1987. Throughout their careers, this dynamic husband and wife team have been driven by a passion to change the way children are cared for and educated within the dental practice setting.

With two mixed NHS/private dental practices and two equally well-established and successful nursery schools, they decided the heart of their new-style Reece Associates practice should be used as the base, pilot site and launch pad for their visionary approach to delivering children's dentistry – Smilescool.

With these two businesses sitting comfortably side by side their visionary concept promoted an all-embracing ethos of involvement, empowerment, enthusiasm and education that permeates through the whole practice team.

Throughout their working lives in dentistry together, Mike has been the idealist, the pioneer and dedicated to the delivery of excellence in both clinical care and patient experience. In his own words, he ‘does teeth' and primary focus is the patient actually sitting in his chair; Sara develops, implements and constantly reviews the systems required to effectively and efficiently run the business side of the practice.

Sara says: ‘I've sometimes had to work hard to think creatively and “outside the box” to provide the practical systems, processes and solutions to support his innovative ideas, but Mike's motivation and enthusiasm is infectious and I love a challenge! That said, our backgrounds, beliefs and enthusiasm mean we share the same visions and goals and that, I believe, is essential.'
Reece Associates itself is situated along a main arterial road in Sutton Coldfield, west Midlands, in what was once the warehouse for a neighbouring off licence.

Mike and Sara saw an opportunity to set up in private practice not far from their existing NHS/private mixed practice – and the two now sit in a neighbourly fashion along the road from each other – two very different practices but linked, sometimes with referrals ending up at Reece Associates.


Staff who remained in the mixed practice were happy – ‘The ones who were chosen to stay saw it as a positive thing,' Sara explains.

Reece Associates was initially a completely empty shell full of boxes of booze with iron girders, cladding and false ceilings – but, with an eye for clean lines, tasteful design and the verve to shed blood, sweat and tears – Sara and co eventually created the airy, light-flooded practice, with high ceilings and surgeries off the colourful open-style main reception. Gary Betts of DDPC in London were their architectural design consultants. The structural part was his call, the interior design Sara took on.

She began that particular creative journey thinking like a patient; what they would expect and what they would want to see. ‘I needed to look at the flow, the patient's journey – a bit of a cliché but it was necessary.'

Stumbling blocks such as having to frequently filter beautiful water features and fish tanks were avoided and enough toilet facilities put in place to please the most harassed of parents with small children. Anxious not to disrupt the patients later on with building works, Sara explains: ‘We decided from day one we'd build to the size we were eventually going to be, not necessarily in detail but we laid the footprint there.'

At the heart of the practice is the dedicated Smilescool children's waiting-area that boasts interactive computers and seating set knee-high to an adult, a range of handpicked informative dental health education books that target young people and their centre for Positive Oral Development (POD).

The POD is designed, equipped and resourced to appeal to children of all ages and provide an essential non-clinical environment to help children become familiar with the sights, sounds and ‘strange people' associated with dentistry. Its design is far removed from ‘a pile of books with half the pages missing left in a dark and dingy corner of a reception area'.

Sara says: ‘By including a specific children's arm within a general practice setting, we've tried to ensure that children, parents, grandparents (and aunties and uncles if they want) can use the same premises and most of the same personnel. Smilescool is designed to combat or reverse any existing fear of “a trip to the dentist”, teach parents and children to understand oral health care, how tooth decay and gum disease develop and, most importantly, the skills necessary for their prevention.

‘We have provided a system for educating children and parents while encouraging practise and evaluation of their oral cleansing skills on an on-going basis. Smilescool moves away from the reactionary system of waiting for a problem to develop before intervening with repair – we teach prevention is better than cure. Our goal is to help children enjoy looking after their teeth, teach, empower and motivate them with the skills necessary to do it and instil lifelong habits at the earliest age possible.'

At Smilescool, the team teaches life skills and methods to practise and assess each child's oral cleansing techniques and skills. This meant that they needed to be able to measure the success of the children, so they invented a measureable and quantifiable solution called M.I.K.E.S (Motivational Index for Kids Education Scoring) System.

‘We refer our patients and Smilescool pupils to our “specialists” who are the rest of the dental team and we recognise and promote this as “best practice”. Once your patients understand who everyone is – and what your hygienists, therapists, dental health educators and oral health promotion nurses can offer them – they're very keen to benefit from their considerable skills. So, we empower and use our team in that way, too.'

Sara is keen to promote the whole team approach – ‘What we're doing here at Reece Associates and Smilescool doesn't just involve dentists, hygienists and therapists; it's everybody. We're changing a mindset all the way through the personnel, system and public, too. I think you're always going to find people who find it hard to delegate, as they may feel their status has diminished.

Delegate well and make people feel part of an empowered team; create more time to spend on complex treatments which are of interest and invariably more lucrative, or put your energies to good use working “on” your business not “in” your business. We've done it at Reece Associates and Smilescool and believe everybody can do it. All that's required is the desire to be receptive to change, to alter your mindset and subsequent delivery model.'

The practice has excellent new technology procedures for adults as well as children in the form of the Oralinsights machine, saliva/buffer testing and oral bacteria testing which all enable the team to take a proactive lead in helping improve all patients' oral health.

Denise Peel, the practice's dental health educator and oral health promotion nurse, says: ‘If you're also lucky enough to work with people like Sara and Mike who recognise your increasing skills – and enable your role to develop and progress within the practice – then that brings great personal and professional satisfaction. Knowledge is a wonderful thing to give people confidence in what they discuss with patients. This also gives the dentists and hygienists the confidence to delegate parts of their role to members of the team who are often more than capable of doing it well.'

Using the best and appropriate members of the team, especially when it comes to giving oral health advice and education, is key to this success at Reece Associates and that involves a great deal of the ‘future thinking'.

• For further information, email or visit Meet the team at the BDA Conference in Liverpool (20-22 May 2010), or attend their speaker session on the Saturday in Hall 11.

Grab your ‘early bird' saving!

An ‘early bird' offer of £35 per category is available until 30 June, so it's well worth getting your entries for Best Practice, Team, Young Dentist, UK Best Marketing, and UK Outstanding Achievement sooner rather than later! Visit

For more information, call 01923 851739 or email

To enter the Website Awards, please visit

 Posted on : Fri 14th - May - 2010


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