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Features / July 21, 2015

Dental profile: Laura Horton

by Guy Hiscott

In a new feature for Irish Dentistry, Siobhan Kelleher interviews members of the dental profession for insights and opinions into the world of dentistry. Here, Laura Horton talks brand awareness and changes in dentistry

Laura, you started in dentistry 18 years ago. Tell us about your journey

I started as a dental nurse and then qualified in dental radiography and oral health education, where I gained my initial interest in helping people. I was a treatment coordinator (TCO) in the last practice I worked for, where an amazing opportunity came up to work with a consultancy in the USA, so I grabbed it with both hands! For the first time ever, I really knew what job satisfaction was.

I worked hard and was responsible for a training academy where I began to work with dentists and their teams. I ended up managing two practices, and loved it there. I am forever grateful to my boss Ash for believing in me.

I was then involved with the set-up of my husband’s company, which set off another spark. I knew I wanted to stay in dentistry; it was my passion. So one day, I had the idea to set up a consultancy to educate the dental market about the role of the TCO. I set up on my own in 2008.

What are some of the biggest changes in dentistry that you’ve witnessed?

In the UK, dentistry is no longer self-regulated. I think the introduction of the CQC in England and the RQIA in Northern Ireland was a huge challenge for practices. However, practices now have to embrace change, and as much as some may disagree, it is for the good of the patient.

If you are setting up a practice I always advise (from advice Ash gave me) to design your business around your life

The recession had another drastic effect, and practices without a strong brand identity or strategy found this to be a hard time. In the UK in 2008, dental nurses and technicians were placed onto the same register as dentists, hygienists and therapists. This was fantastic, as was the change to allow hygienists to have direct access to patients without a prescription from a dentist.

What differences have you seen in dentistry in Ireland and the UK?

In the UK, we are adequately staffed due to regulation and legislation; the dreaded catch-22 had to vanish. I have been finding through courses that some practices are short staffed and cannot deliver the experience they really want to, which in turn impedes patient loyalty and the opportunity for a higher turnover.

In practices where you have introduced new systems and protocols, what is the general reaction a year down the line?

I work differently to others. As a practice manager I used to become fustrated when a team member would come back from a course with little or no information. I deliver results; what I teach can be implemented right away.

Hopefully, a year down the line, dentists and teams will enjoy working in their practice even more. Hard work never stops; you have to keep on moving forward so the competition do not catch up, but that is where business consultancies can help.

I’m passionate about implementing hygiene departments into general practice. Do you think perceptions about hygienists delivering comprehensive care rather than just a ‘clean’ are changing?

I am a huge fan of hygiene centre development. In 2004, we made a transition from 30-minute hygiene appointments to one hour for all patients. This was huge! So many hygienists are seen as a ‘cleaning machine’, yet their clinical abilities are outstanding when it comes to prevention and treatment.

Hard work never stops; you have to keep on moving forward so the competition do not catch up

Hygiene centres are profitable and really should be at the heart of any practice that wants loyal patients. All practice philosophies should put patient’s health first; educating them about oral health has to be at the forefront of your business plan. If patients do not know what their problems really are then they can’t do anything about it, and we need motivated patients in the UK and Ireland.

If I was considering a career in dentistry, what advice would you give me?

Try all sorts of dentistry. I temped twice in my career and loved it. Every day I was in a different environment. From hospital to community to a busy city centre – you learn so much. If you want to be a dentist, set realistic expectations for your career, and focus on your passion. There is so much pressure for dentists to do every clinical course because ‘someone they know is doing it’, but you should only do the things you are passionate about.

If you are setting up a practice I always advise (from advice Ash gave me) to design your business around your life. I started this way, got excited with the buzz of it all, burnt out and went back to my original plan of having a business that suits the life I wanted – which includes lots of ‘me’ time!

Laura Horton is a business consultant and owner of Horton Consulting. Laura has qualified in dental nursing, dental radiography and oral health education. She has a diploma in sales and marketing and a certificate in business.

Siobhan Kelleher RDH is the owner of She practices in Co Cork, Ireland and is a member of the Irish Dental Hygienists Association and continuing education officer on committee. She was awarded Best Dental Care Professional at the 2014 Irish Dentistry Awards and was highly commended at the 2015 Irish Dentistry Awards for Best Child Dental Health Initiative.