When it comes to oral health, the Philippine situation looks dismal, especially among children.
Recent statistics from the Philippine Dental Association reveal that as much as 78 percent of those under the age of 12 have some form of tooth decay. For the same age group, some 74 percent are also afflicted with gingivitis or inflammation of the gums caused by poor hygiene.
More alarmingly, the numbers are even worse for children aged six and below, 97 percent of whom have some form of tooth decay.
“If you look at the country right now, there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of oral health,” says Christian Argos, who is the president of Equicom Shared Services Inc., adding that even when adults are counted, the percentage of those afflicted remains “huge.”
“The problem with us Filipinos is that we generally take oral health for granted,” Argos says. “We only go to the dentist when the toothache is already there.”
But what business does an Equicom official have talking about oral health and dentists? Equicom is, after all, the same group owned by the Go family which once controlled Equitable Banking Corp. until early the last decade.
As it turns out, Equicom is into healthcare, on top of owning a fast growing savings bank and a leasing company. The group owns Maxicare, which is one of the largest health management organizations in the country, as well as the newer MyHealth ambulatory clinic.
More recently, they begun to focus on the dental health industry, as well, seeing how much the local market needs the first-rate and efficient service of dentists.
Their new venture is dubbed MetroDental—and they want everyone to be more aware of their teeth and gums.
And the business concept is both simple and elegant. MetroDental is basically a dental clinic on steroids.
Unlike normal dental clinics which are manned by a single dentist, investing his or her capital into building up a dental practice, MetroDental leverages off the corporate muscle of the Equicom group to create a chain of fully staffed and fully equipped clinics.
Each MetroDental clinic is staffed by a team of both resident (i.e. full time) and consultant (i.e. part time) dentists. At any given time, there are three to four dental health professionals manning its clinics.
And speaking of clinics, MetroDental has, at present, 15 branches located in various malls in Metro Manila, Pampanga, Cebu and Davao.
“Because maybe it’s a Sunday and you are out shopping. Or maybe because your family dentist is not available,” says MetroDental chief operating officer Frederic Peignon, a Frenchman who knows the dental industry like the palm of his hand. “It’s very convenient and we’re very accessible.”
“Our locations are very strategic,” he says. “They’re open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. We’re open during mall hours. If the mall opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m., we’re also open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.”
Having once worked with manufacturers of devices used in the dental profession, Peignon knows how expensive it can be for a normal dentist to equip his or her clinic with all the equipment required of a top-notch practice.
“These clinics are very expensive. The cost is in the millions,” he says, pointing out that specialized equipment used to pump compressed air (used for oral cleaning), for example, can cost anywhere between P700,000 to P1 million each.
It is so expensive than some local dental clinics use industrial compressors as a poor substitute, Peignon notes.
Not so with MetroDental which prides itself in having the best and the latest equipment.
Says the company’s vice president for marketing, Cecille Francisco, “We’re known for the excellent dental experience we offer our clients. We can even do complicated procedures like dental implants.”
For the patient’s convenience, they can simply walk into any of the dental chain’s mall-based branches, or set an appointment if they want to be attended to by their preferred dentists. (There’s even a dedicated children’s clinic with a cartoon-themed room.)
“Even before you step into the clinic, you can do online inquiries,” Francisco says. “We have a dedicated hotline for inquiries. As soon as you walk through our doors, you’ll be surprised to see that it’s very sophisticated.”
Most importantly, the MetroDental officials say the service provided by their organization is at par with international standards, given the rigid and continuous training programs their dental staff regularly undergo.
But is it good enough to replace the familiar and comforting presence of one’s trusted family dentist?
“A dentist is an artist. You can never mold an artist because each one is unique,” Peignon says. “But we are working with more than 80 dentists right now, nationwide. We want to have the same experience across all clinics. As a brand, we aim to guarantee the quality of our treatment. This is our name.”