Dr Tula Oros describes the opportunities and challenges she experiences running her dental practice in Cusco, Peru. She explains to Somnowell Marketing’s Founder Loran Simon how patient attitudes to dental visits and hygiene impact the industry.
Why did you become dentist?
Dr Tula Oros: When I was 18, I started to study to make fake teeth for dentists and laboratories. I wanted to learn more about why people has this kind of disease or why these things happen. And that’s how I started my long adventure to becoming a dentist.
I had the opportunity to meet one doctor, Michael Holt from United States. I volunteered with him since 2009 or ’10. Just seeing the difference you can make in people when you teach them – that this is very important in dental health. So, since then I knew that I made the right decision to study dentistry.
In England we're seeing a lot more information in the news about how good or bad dental health can create other problems in your body.
Dr Tula Oros: Yes, it does. I used to work with a company, the Metlife company for five years. We went to communities around Cusco. It’s terrible, when you see what happen with the teeth of the people. The culture here is different. They think that the baby teeth are not important because they will fell.
With everything they think, “No problem, I don’t feel any pain”. It’s the mentality.
Right, so a lot of education needs to happen.
Dr Tula Oros: Lots of education. We went for around four years, at the same community, every year, and we change the mentality. And all the time the people come – the young mothers come with their babies – and we knew that this is way we can change things. Learning and teaching them.
What are the biggest marketing challenges that you face and how do you deal with them?
Dr Tula Oros: In Peru, it’s the prices of the dental treatment. We have a lot of dentists here and not enough patients. If we want to get one patient, we have to give them lower prices. It’s difficult. And the culture here is different. People go to the dentist only when they feel pain – just for cleaning or to see if everything is okay.
So that’s the biggest problem for us. But I’m lucky because I have contact with some people that like good quality. They don’t see the prices. People [also] send me tourists and the tourists pay the correct price. And I work with people who like good treatment. I focus on that. So, I work with these kind of patients and I don’t need to give them a lower prices.
Marketing has changed a lot in the past 10 to 15 years. What does this mean for dentists? Is it easier or harder now?
Dr Tula Oros: I think it’s easier, because social media is everything for everybody now. In my case, I didn’t need any marketing – only my own work.
Last year, I had a small office, but this year I have six people working for me, so I need another kind of marketing to get more patients.
Here in Cusco, I don’t know if we have special companies to do our marketing. I know of two small companies, but I don’t know if they are good doing that. Who can tell me, “We need to do this, this and this and you will get more patients”?
What role does cosmetic dentistry play in your practice and what do you think the future holds?
Dr Tula Oros: Well, it’s very important. I have a few experiences literally changing the smile. One was my friend, she looks completely different, she was so happy. She wanted to go on a big trip to Europe with her department from school.
She said, “I don’t like to smile”, and when I told her, “Look at the mirror, I will show you” she said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to look at my teeth. Just tell me what you can do, to make my smile much better.”
We did a nice job. We took almost one and a half months, but two days before she left, she was like, “Thank you, thank you”. For me, this kind of thing is like, “Wow.”
I don’t have any speciality. I’m a general dentist, but I know that I’m doing good, I’m doing well. The cosmetic industry is very important here, because everybody likes to smile and likes to have a nice smile.
Do you see cosmetic dentistry growing in your practice in the next five to 10 years?
Dr Tula Oros: Yes. Most people come here first for pain and then because they want to braces. Anything to smile nicely. It’s very important.
Yes, it's a huge part of dentistry, as we see in America and England. The way a patient's teeth look affects their lives.
How do you manage the dual roles of being a respected dentist and a business owner? And what tips do you have for new dentists that are just starting out?
Dr Tula Oros: I started this big, big project for me. It was fine, because I was working alone in a small office, stuff like that. But now it’s a big responsibility and even sometimes stressful. But at the same time I feel strength – I feel I grew up; I feel trust in myself. I feel that I can do more.
So many problems exist around this small, but at the same time big, dental office. But it feels really good when you have your own business and you see that you are doing well.
For the new dentists, they have to know what they want and what they like about the profession. When you are a dentist it’s not only about the teeth – it’s about the people and the life of the people. As you have said, it’s even about their mental health. So, they have to be sure about what they want and what they like.
As I have told you we have lot of dentists and not enough patients. The culture is the problem, but at the same time, it’s the government, because the government don’t do anything to control the universities. And if we are a lot of trained dentists and not enough patients, because they think, “I will go to the dentist only if I feel pain. Not for cleaning, not for anything else. Only for pain”, then we don’t have enough patients.
So, we need to do something different. We need to make a difference to bring patients to us. For Peru I really don’t know what’s the future. But for my own experience it’s just to make a difference.