- The cosmetic dentist talks about going from dropping her CV all over London in 2015 to buying a practice in 2020
- Her tips on managing a team
- How Dragon’s Den changed her business
Dr. Rhona Eskander is a cosmetic dentist, owner of the Chelsea Dental Clinic in London and co-founder of PÄRLA toothpaste tablets. She talks to 35 Thousand about overcoming challenges, her plans for the future and how she has learned to value freedom during the pandemic.
Describe yourself in 3 words…
Passionate, empathetic, driven.
Tell us about your work
I’m a cosmetic dentist based in Chelsea. I started my practice from ground zero. In 2015 I CV dropped all over London trying to get a job, I worked in a small family-based practice in the countryside following my university training. However, my desire was to be in London. I applied for an interview to cover maternity leave in a practice in High Street Kensington; I handed in my notice at my current practice, risking not having a job once the maternity cover was over.
When I went to the Kensington practice I was determined to make myself worthy of having a permanent position. Hard work and determination to prove my worth. My boss was also talking about selling his practice in Chelsea- he had a fully private practice which was not booming as much as Kensington. I was intrigued by the practice and asked if I could come and work there, he thought I was a little crazy but accepted. I was so passionate about taking on the challenge. Many people could not understand why I wanted to work in a practice that was not busy.
When I went to Chelsea there was only one patient a month coming through the doors. The clinic was not thriving. It was my vision and dream to make it a super successful clinic. People thought I was mad- I wanted to make a clinic that was not mine work.
Nevertheless, I pursued my dreams. The pursuit of my dreams was also led by other game-changers- Invisalign and Instagram. I knew they were taking the world by storm and I wanted to be behind them. Importantly I BELIEVED in their vision- client and patient-centered care, creativity and passion.
Invisalign provides the fodder for minimal invasive smile design and I believed that bringing it into the practice would change the game, and it did. Instagram was in its embryonic stages and having friends in the arts and creative industries, I believed that dentists and science had a space on the platform particularly cosmetic dentistry where art and science meet.
Do you work in a spare room, skyscraper, or other?
A dental clinic in the heart of Chelsea.
What parts of your work give you energy?
I still get goosebumps when I give my patient the mirror for the first time after their smile makeover journey. The way in which a smile can impact someone’s self-confidence and literally change someone’s life is the moment that I live for. They often cry tears of joy and this makes my job worth living for.
What parts of your work drain you?
Managing a team is hard. You are always dealing with different personalities. Good teams are made up of people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds who approach and view the world very differently. The other side of that coin is that when people come together with completely different paradigms of how to view the world, it can be hard to get everyone in sync on how and what needs to be done. That makes teamwork challenging. But where you can bridge that gap, you get something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Most pivotal point of your career so far?
Definitely buying a practice at the beginning of the pandemic. March 2020 marked a time where the world changed. Taking on a practice when I couldn’t work was so challenging but out of adversity comes opportunity. As the world turned to digital means I too had to adapt. I turned to Zoom offering online consultations and giving digital advice. It really tested my strength and resilience but I made it. I created a practice based on true care as I supported a community during the pandemic.
Dragons Den was also huge for my career. I am one of the cofounders of PÄRLA toothpaste tabs- the eco-friendly toothpaste solution to the plastic problem. PÄRLA is a dehydrated toothpaste sold in reusable glass jars. My business partners and I came together after discovering the ugly truth about toothpaste tubes- it takes 500 years for the tubes to decompose. Moreover, many toothpastes do not contain ethically sources or clean ingredients. PÄRLA is designed by dentists to be good for you and the planet.
We were asked to be on Dragons’ Den and this changed our business. The exposure you get from being on the show gave us so many opportunities. We are now stocked in major national retailers such as Boots and Sainsburys.
Best piece of advice you received that you now pass on to others?
Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind, the race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
What event or situation is funny now but wasn’t at the time.
A celebrity client came in to see me. My dad was in the waiting room and he started chatting to her, he asked her what she did and she said ‘I’m an actress’, he asked her for her name and she was very well known. My dad then said ‘I’ve never heard of you’. I was absolutely mortified I literally wanted to die!
Pets, hobbies, external commitments?
I love life! I know this might sound drastic but life isn’t just about work. Travelling is the crux of my happiness and I always make sure to give time to travel and explore. I’m also a bit of a thrill seeker and I love to do activities such as sky diving or bungee jumping. You see, when you truly understand the size of this vast earth we live on, you can start to think outside of yourself. You start to perceive more about your life and the lives of others. I was also really good at drama at school and I enjoy theatre, whether that’s improv or watching plays. Reading is also one of my greatest pleasures, I often delve into books by some of the greats such as Virginia Woolf.
Describe your pre-pandemic day-to-day:
My morning rituals are key and no matter how I am feeling I am determined to stick to them. These include waking up early, about one hour before I leave the house. Looking at my journal book and checking in with my affirmations. It is important to also write down your intentions. Drinking 2l water with my vitamins. I recently started using Your Heights, a brain supplement which has done wonders for me. I stretch for 15 mins. I then get ready and train with my trainer, no matter how I am feeling this is non-negotiable for me. Exercise releases endorphins and makes me feel alive. Then I start work around 10am and feel ready and set for the day.
Consistency is key, set your daily rituals and make them a habit. The consistent routine helps us set the tone for the day, better allowing us to control our schedules rather than our schedule controlling us. As we start each day fresh, we can better focus on what is in front of us, where to prioritise our time, and, ultimately, increase our productivity.
I would then walk to work and treat my patients, it’s usually a mixture of consultations and treatments.
How has your daily life changed, what’s your new normal?
After the initial closure of dentists, I was one of many dentists who petitioned to stay open. Since the Covid19 lockdown, the number of dental appointments and treatments missed was staggering. Extrapolating the figures from NHS England alone, it is estimated that around 1.3 million adult appointments, including 4.5 million courses of treatment as well as 808,000 child appointments were missed! Significantly more, if you add in numbers from the other parts of the UK.
As well as regular check-ups and treating pain, dentists also undertake the vital work of mouth cancer screening. Head and neck cancers are the 8th most common cancer in the UK with incidence, increasing over the past decade by a third. In a typical six-week period nearly 1,000 cases are diagnosed. Up to 88% of this type of cancer is preventable with dentists highly trained to identify susceptible patients and give preventive advice. Caught early this is a treatable cancer; caught late it has a very poor prognosis.
This meant that I spent the best part of the year dealing with the backlog of patients.
When we did eventually open up, dentistry was really hard. We had to wear even more heavy-duty PPE, allow for fallow time between patients meaning less patients could be seen and many staff such as nurses left dentistry due to the harder working conditions.
I outline below some of the changes that took place.
All dental professionals working in practice to wear appropriate levels of PPE. A survey conducted by Pandora Dental amongst 2,500 dental professionals shows only 7.4% experienced Covid19 symptoms prior to the lockdown, which is much lower than the general population and can be attributed to their use of PPE.
Clean the mouth
All patients to use an anti-microbial mouthwash which is 99.999% effective at killing coronaviruses as soon as they enter the dental practice.
Clean the air
All dental waiting rooms and dental surgeries to be fitted with Radic8 clean air systems. These systems were developed in South Korea in 2004 in response to the SARS outbreak. They have been proven to kill coronaviruses in the air, and ensure that airborne, droplet viruses, such as Covid19 are neutralised before they are inhaled. The systems are currently used on all South Korean Covid19 wards. This pioneering technology is used widely in clinics Worldwide, and the typical time to completely change the air in a room is 5 minutes (around 25 minutes shorter that the ‘open window’ practice used by the UDC’s meaning significantly more patients can be safely treated in a day).
Clean the consulting room and equipment
All dental practices are already required to thoroughly clean the consulting room and sterilise equipment between patients and sufficient time is allowed between patients to ensure this is conducted effectively. Many practices are also installing the anti-viral clean air systems in the reception and waiting areas.
Clean the water supply
It is also being recommended that hypochlorous acid (which is anti-viral and anti-bacterial) is added to the water supply used in the consulting rooms. This is an agent widely used in the food industry and it is non-toxic to people, although highly effective against pathogens.
Minimise droplet release in the mouth
Affectionately known to dentists as ‘tooth raincoats’, rubber dams enable dentists to work on the teeth and ensure that gums and saliva are not unnecessarily exposed to the environment. Pandora recommend rubber dam treatment is used for every patient, even for routine dental check-ups.
Reduce any infection laden aerosol spray which is released
When working on teeth, as well as in essential hygiene therapy, there are many aerosol-generating procedures where the air can become laden with spray. As this can be contaminated with blood and saliva which has led to the recommendation to stop this type of procedure. However, practices have a range of options available to deal with this problem to the extent that 99.9% of the potentially hazardous materials are safely removed. Stopping dentists and hygienists from providing these types of treatments may result in the unnecessary loss of many teeth, plus there are very many associated serious complications and concerns for the patients’ welfare which could result.
Has the Corona crisis impacted you personally and professionally? How?
In March dentists were closed and this was horrible for us, patients were in pain, in the middle of treatments and we could not treat them. I focused on Zoom calls to help patients and triage. They were given advice, analgesics or antibiotics. Luckily we were one of the first industries to be allowed back to work in June. We were relieved to go back and resume treatments. However, I also did several FaceTime consultations and I found more than ever people were interested in having their teeth treated. People valued dental care, accessibility and health more than ever. Zoom had a huge impact on business. Some even are calling it the zoom boom, people more than ever are obsessed with their teeth not only in static pictures but also in motion- how they look when they are speaking, they are constantly confronted with images and have called me to say ‘ I want to start getting this sorted now’. The impact of the smile is definitely being valued more than ever.
I feel extremely lucky that business could continue fairly soon after the initial lockdown, I also recognised the importance that health care and health professionals have. It really made me value and appreciate my job.
What, if anything, keeps you up at night?
Thinking about patients. I’m always conscious about how they are feeling. If they had a good experience and how I can create a better experience for them.
What have been your best coping strategies over the past year? Do you have any objects, routines or tools that you found particularly uplifting? Gin or Gym?
Yes please see above for my routines. My morning rituals are everything.
What has kept you sane? And kept your family sane?
Although we often put down technology the ability to stay in contact is so important. Technology is changing the world around us at a rapid pace and the capabilities of connected devices will continue to advance at break-neck speed. When we harness the ability to allow technology to give connection it can be powerful. The ability to stay in contact with each other kept us going.
Even our socially distanced walks during lockdown made us feel a sense of gratitude and connection.
Did 2020 change your outlook on life in any way?
Freedom. The lack of freedom made me value freedom. Freedom to travel, freedom to see your friends and family. It made me really want to embrace life and treasure every moment.
Are you travel ready? Where do you want to go, with who or would you rather stay home?
I’m always travel ready. I have my next three holidays booked. I love going to places that are a little bit undiscovered. We’ve booked Rwanda to see the gorillas and we have Tulum booked for my birthday.
Finish this sentence “If you look in my handbag at any time you will ALWAYS find….”
My eyebrow gel. I’m known for my big bold brows which I used to get bullied for. I’ve learnt to love them and embrace them.
What are your work from home saviours?
My meditation playlist and breathwork class with Jamie Clements.
Dirtea- the mushroom coffee which is a replacement for my coffee.
I also take supplements from Heights.
Describe your style?
I’ve definitely been channelling Carrie Bradshaw. Her mix-and-match mantra, styling vintage steals with enviable designer pieces, is everything that I am about.
Name your 5 essential items of clothing?
Leggings and crop top bra
I love my ripped denim jeans
How do you see your business or career in two years from now?
I am so excited that a whole clinic revamp is about to commence with my sister. She is a very successful, creative architect. I may be biased but her vision is unbelievable and we want to turn the clinic into a sensory, experience-based practice. The overall space will feel organic, calm and minimal by combining soft curves with warm materials and an earthy colour palette. The use of planting and diffuse lighting will create a holistic environment that will make patients feel at ease. Technology will be integrated seamlessly throughout the space allowing for changing content whilst making the space feel futuristic and contemporary. The use of colour, lighting, planting, artwork and tactile materials will create a more sensory space that challenges the norm of a typical clinic which can often feel hostile or sterile. Instead, I intend to immerse the patient in their surroundings, in a multifunctional space that instills a sense of calm whilst feeling sophisticated, inviting, clean and eye-catching.
Moreover, I started an eco-friendly toothpaste Pärla (with two business partners) to help combat the plastic problem. Pärla is our eco-friendly solution to the plastic epidemic of toothpaste tubes, where 1.5 billion tubes end up in landfills or the ocean each year, that’s around 50 tubes a second.
As dentists, we believe toothpaste should first and foremost protect people’s oral health but not harm people, animals or our planet in the process. That’s why we created PÄRLA – to radically disrupt the toothpaste industry with clean ingredients and sustainable packaging.
Pärla toothpaste tabs are zero waste toothpaste tablets, sold in reusable glass jars, with refills coming in compostable bags. They contain only ethically sourced, animal cruelty-free and Vegan ingredients but most importantly include the perfect dose of Fluoride to protect against decay. To use the tabs, simply pop a PÄRLA, chew for 5 seconds and then brush as normal. The water from your brush will convert the tabs into a paste in your mouth.
What’s something you haven’t conquered yet but really want to?
Owning multiple practices. I have a vision to own at least another practice or even franchise my brand later on. I would also love to be abroad at least 4 months of the year as I love to explore other countries.
What could you say to your 20 year old self that would help her the most?
I often write letters to myself in the third person about what my future self is saying. It’s so powerful. Some of the same messages keep coming up.
Here are some sentences.
Firstly, you are not broken. The confusion and despair you sometimes feel in your inability to find purpose behind your existence is what everyone around you feels. Befriend that feeling. It will visit you often.
It’s beautiful how stubbornly you search for that magical ‘meaning of life’. Don’t stop. It is what makes you ‘you’, even if others at times get tired of that part of your soul. It’s also the reason why they are drawn to you in the first place.
Always be kind. But accept that your kindness may not always be reciprocated. It will come back to you at a time and from a source you least expect. Appreciate the strangers and passersby who treat you well, sometimes coming into your life for the sole purpose of holding you through the most difficult moments.
Life is going to surprise you, shock you, excite and confuse you. Enjoy every single moment of it and savour all the good times you are currently having. Be grateful and stop often to appreciate everything in your life.
Do you have a life motto or mantra that really resonates with you?
It’s a simple one but one that means a lot to me:
Be kind. I am so passionate about mental health and the narrative around it. When you’re kind to others, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed. Not only do you get that “helper’s high”, you also diminish feelings of isolation. If you open the door for someone, for example, that person may smile and say ‘thank you’.
Take a look at Dr. Rhona Eskander’s website here.
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