International Women’s Day Series: Neesha Patel

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Dr Neesha Patel
Credit Pure Periodontics

In this series for International Women’s Day, we sat down with Specialist Periodontist, Neesha Patel, to talk about her work as Clinical Director at Pure Periodontics, her career highlights and what’s in the pipeline for 2024.

Q. Tell us about the work you do at Pure Periodontics?

A. Periodontics is a small specialty of Dentistry, it’s historically not very well-known. Periodontics is the study of gum disease, treating gum disease and gum recession, so it’s very unusual to have a practice that is only periodontal.

Q. Talk us through the treatment process at Pure Periodontics?

A. We call this process our patient journey. The first stage is speaking to our treatment coordinator who will explain a little bit about what we do. The second is booking a consultation with myself. We will then do an assessment, take some x-rays and give them a diagnosis. We will run through a treatment plan, talk through the fees and see if they would like to have the treatment at our practice.

If they are happy with the treatment plan, they can then book in for a series of appointments. Every patient will vary, but generally speaking the course of treatment usually lasts around six months, over possibly over seven or eight visits. Each clinician has their own niche here, a particular area of interest that they work on.

The way I explain it to our patients is that it’s not like a general practice where you have each individual clinician working on their own island. We work as a team right from the front door. We have a meeting after each patient’s consultation, as a team, to discuss the patient journey and plan out every bit of it. This means that every time a patient comes in, even if they are meeting a new face, it shouldn’t feel like that.

We have multiple appointments to disinfect, so that the immune system can start to kick in and the gums can start healing. We then reassess the patient in six months to measure that healing. This needs to be done so that it is measurable so we can say that at the beginning, this is how you were, and we think you are stable or not stable because of all these indices that we measure. This is quite powerful for the patient because, rather than not knowing what’s happening, we can visually show them how the journey has helped them.

Q. What do you enjoy most about what you do?

A. It’s so versatile. I first qualified about 20 years ago, then I started working in different practices trying to gain experience, as well as hospital work, and that’s what helps you to realise what part of dentistry you really like and what you’re good at. I really like the aspects of dentistry that involves doing surgery and I found that periodontics was the best combination of everything.

I also liked the aspect of periodontal treatment being more about health. A lot of dentistry is about aesthetics, which is great of course, but I liked being able to gain knowledge about somebody’s overall health. Periodontics does not look at gum disease in isolation, but takes into account how the person’s body is creating this problem, or vice versa, how gum disease and inflammation is affecting somebody in their whole body health. I love that link and being able to translate that to a patient is the element of my work that I love.

I also really enjoy mentoring and seeing people as they progress through their career at the practice. I enjoy both elements, I like the business side of setting up a practice and I also still have a passion for the clinical side and being able to help people using our knowledge.

Q. Why did you decide to set up your own clinic?

A. When I qualified, I got my dream internship, which had only three places on offer in London. This then lead to more good things happening. I got the chance to work in two amazing practices.

I have an entrepreneurial side of me, that you can’t really explore in health care unless you open up your own practice.

Setting up your own practice takes a lot of work and a around six years of learning how to balance everything out. Eventually, this allows you to make those decisions about how you’re going to work.

Q. Tell us a bit about running a practice that is currently all-female?

A. If I wasn’t the business owner, it wouldn’t be very uncommon. Dental nurses tend to be all female. A few years ago now, was the first year that the dental schools in London had a higher intake of female students than male students, so now it’s inevitable that as those Dentists come out into the workforce, that things are going to become more equal. However, I think that at a senior clinical level it’s quite uncommon and I think that’s because a woman-owned practice is still quite unusual.

There are lots of female dentists, very good ones, but then the extra step, by the time you get to that place where you’re ready to own your own practice, this could be the same time that you start thinking about having kids and might think that it would be better to work for someone else, to have that flexibility.

A question that I get asked a lot is if we have a policy of only hiring female members of staff. I usually just say, “I hire the best!”. We have had male specialists here previously, who have worked here early in their career and have left to set up their own practices, but for the majority of the 12 years, we have been an all-female team and are currently all female.

Within an all-female team, there are so many different strengths, and that is reflected within our team. We always encourage each person to pursue the thing that they are most interested in while working within the practice, to gain the most fulfilment possible from their role.

Q. What is your biggest career achievement so far?

A. Getting the opportunity to work as a Consultant at King’s College Hospital, was a huge achievement, as it was not something I thought would happen. By that point in my career, I felt like I had streamlined myself into the clinical route as opposed to the hospital route. At the time when I got the Consultant post, I was one of the youngest periodontal consultants. I think ten years at King’s helped with building the practice a lot too. When you are a consultant and when you set up your own practice, you have to make sure that you’re at the forefront of new technologies.

As well as this, the awards that we have won, have been huge achievements for us as a practice. I think that they reflect our team approach. Everybody has a part to play, so when we submit our evidence, everybody’s work goes into it.

Q. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?

A. The biggest challenges so far have probably been financial, I think that is probably what stops people from setting up a practice in the first place, because it’s risky. Taking time out of your career and buying a practice is such a huge investment. Getting going is not just a few months or a couple of years of being patient, you’ve really got to evaluate your whole life and you don’t know if its going to be successful.

I would also say that the big challenge in dentistry, and a big flaw with Dentistry School, is that we are not taught about business at all, when the majority of dentists go into businesses after they qualify. For associates, who are self-employed, you need to know how to manage your finances. That is something that should change, there should be a course for dentistry students that covers the business side of things. Even if this was an elective, for those who are interested and are thinking about opening up their own practice, they would have the option there.

Q. Can you tell us about your experience of opening your practice in the City?

A. One of the things I love about our location is the clientele that we can reach by being here. We don’t just treat people who live and work in the City, which is what you might expect. Our location gives us links to so many places. We have people coming to us via Kings Cross, from outside of London, like Birmingham and as far north as the Peak District. We even see people who have had treatment and now live in Europe but they come in for their maintenance check-ups.

Now, because of Crossrail, we have patients coming in from everywhere, from all walks of life, all ages, all demographics. I love that there’s no barrier to getting into the City, that was always something that appealed to me. It’s also a great area to be in. It’s nice that it isn’t all healthcare, or all retail, or all restaurants. There is a little bit of everything. There are lots of independents too, which I love! The area just has a really nice vibe.

Q. What are your plans for the future at Pure Periodontics?

A. Every year, we are expanding. We are adding new clinicians and we are now thinking about opening up a second premises. We are at that place now where as long as we want it to grow, it will grow. A big part of us growing as a practice is that patients are just so much more aware. Whilst periodontics is very niche, it’s so common. The majority of people will experience some form of gum problem.

Patients are more health conscious and more savvy. They’re less likely to wait until their dentist says that they need periodontal treatment, and they are more likely to tell their dentist that they think they have gum disease and then be referred for Periodontal treatment.

12 years ago when I started, we were very reliant on people referring to me. I reached out and started to develop a network of general dentists that would refer patients to me. Slowly but surely, we spent a lot of time on our marketing and our website. Now when people find out about us from a google search, they can read our reviews and get in contact. Our client base continues to grow, often through patients who have found us on their own.

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