The Co Down dentist revolutionising bridge work
Dentures and implants are not the only choice, thanks to a technique which is bridging a gap in the dental health market
A quiet revolution in dental procedure is taking place in a sleepy village in Co Down. A technique which bridges the financial gap between NHS dentures and expensive implants is transforming the quality of life for patients at the Edelweiss Dental practice in Strangford.
The revolutionary new bridge work is not only much cheaper than implants, but also removes the need for surgical work - a big plus for those who fear the dentist's chair.
It is a common procedure in Europe and has been brought to Northern Ireland by dental surgeon, Klaus Viesteg, from his native Berlin.
Klaus (51) is married to a local woman, Alice (50), from Drumaness, who, ironically, is based in Berlin as an air hostess.
The couple met in the German city and made a home here eight years ago. While visiting Alice's relatives in Northern Ireland, Klaus fell in love with the place and settled here, working as an associate dentist in Downpatrick before opening his own practice in Strangford just last December.
He says: "Alice is still based in Berlin, but shuttles back and forward. I just found life was easier going here than in Berlin, and I've made some great friends."
Now Klaus is making a name for himself with his ground-breaking bridge technique which is allowing patients to ditch their dentures and enjoy a more natural and confidence-boosting smile.
It says everything about his approach to his work that, in just nine months of opening his surgery in a small rural town, he has a register of 900 patients.
His new technique is also attracting people through word of mouth. It involves a bridge of dentures being secured in the mouth by anchoring it to a crown or two crowns fitted with special sliding attachments.
It is lauded in Europe for producing a solution to all the usual denture problems, and also creating a pleasing and superior aesthetic and functional result.
"The work really produces a result for those patients who do not wish to proceed with expensive implants," says Klaus. "From first appointment it can be completed within eight weeks compared to six months for an implant bedding in, and being able to withstand substantial pressure.
"There is not the surgical procedure involved with implants which can put a lot of people off the idea and, of course, it is much cheaper."
The German dentist has his special bridges and crowns constructed by dental labs in London and Essen in Germany, and insists they are a far superior fix than the traditional denture.
"There are no metal clasps to be seen, no need for fixatives and the bridge is secured in one position with the pressure of the attachment transferred to the gums where it belongs," he explains.
"The bridge is easily removed for cleaning purposes but can be worn 24 hours a day.
"I have to say, the reaction of patients who have undergone this new bridge work has been very encouraging.
"One lady was actually in tears at being able to say goodbye to her traditional dentures. It brings confidence back to people. They are not worried about dentures slipping down or falling out and are more confident about speaking, eating and smiling. People are so happy and it has actually made some people realise what they had lost."
One satisfied customer is Louise Allen (46), a social worker from Rathlin Island.
Louise is married to Michael (49), who works for Lloyds Bank, and they have four children, Connor (15), Kathryn (13), Christopher (12) and Cara (10).
She got to know Klaus through family and, when she heard of the bridge work, she began saving to have it done.
Louise had a number of crowns which she said would periodically fall out, as well as gaps on the side of her mouth which made her feel self-conscious.
In fact, she never smiled without covering her mouth and would always turn sideways when having her photograph taken.
Since having the new bridge work done, she says it has transformed the quality of her life.
She says: "I've been to different dentists over the years and when I saw Klaus, he basically told me my bite needed to be raised up to counteract the problems I was having.
"I had crowns which kept coming out and it was like bits of my teeth were coming away as well. I was also grinding my teeth at night.
"Klaus gave me a mouthguard to fix my bite before he could fix the gaps in the side of my mouth.
"For years I wouldn't smile without putting my hand up to cover the side of my face, and I always turned to the good side of my face when I was getting a photo taken."
Having been a regular in the dentist's chair over the years, Louise was also pleasantly surprised at how quickly and easily the transformation to her teeth came about.
She says: "The whole procedure was brilliant. I was two hours in the dentist's chair and I didn't feel one bit of pain and, in fact, it didn't even feel like two hours.
"I couldn't believe the results. My new teeth are so natural looking. I could have cried when Klaus handed me the mirror.
"It has changed the whole shape of my mouth and I am now much less self-conscious than I was.
"I can't help but notice the difference it has made to my confidence, too. I don't put my hand up to cover my mouth anymore, and it has changed my life. In fact, my self-confidence is through the roof and you don't get much better than that. I can actually laugh now and not feel self-conscious."
Louise says she has spent a lot of money on dentistry over the years and would have been attending the dentist three to four times a year.
To pay for her new bridge work, she had to sacrifice treats as she saved the £3,000 she needed to transform her top teeth.
She says: "I have been saving for seven or eight months. For me it was about looking at the bigger picture and getting it sorted once and for all, rather than fixing a bit here and there which is what I have been doing for years.
"My work colleagues, my friends, everybody has noticed the difference. It is great to be able to smile and not worry about it." The cost of the bridge work is a fraction of that of implants which many believe are the only way to secure that perfect A-lister smile.
Costs of implants do vary but, typically, single implants will cost around £2,000, while two attachments and two crowns through the service Klaus is offering will set you back £2,200.
Klaus would like to see the practice made more widely available: "I feel there is a lack of alternatives between the NHS dentures and the more expensive implants, and yet there is a wide range of different things in between which could be offered.
"They are techniques which are widely available in Europe and I think, even at university, students should be taught more of them.
"When you talk people through it and show them what can be done, it is pretty easy for them to decide which road to go down.
"Basically, it is an aesthetically functional alternative to the expensive implants and a lot of people haven't been offered something like it before."
Klaus is also bringing his European approach to helping people with dental phobias.
He takes his time when dealing with his patients and is an advocate of explaining to them the procedures to be used, and reassures them at all times that pain will be managed effectively and can be eliminated completely.
"That kind of approach is actually very European and most dentists over there, like me here, will just have a sit down with a patient first and talk everything through.
"People can embrace a phobia, a fear of the dentist, in a second that takes years to get rid of, but a personal, one-to-one approach can help so much in dealing with that."
It is an approach which has seen the dentist win the approval of one of his better known clients, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie.
Ms Ritchie, who is a patient at the practice, spoke at the launch of the new surgery last December.
As well as this psychological approach to dental work, the Strangford practice also follows a very European model in another service it offers - cosmetic work, including face rejuvenation and fillers.
"Again, this is something which is more common in mainland Europe than here, but I am really pleased with the uptake in all of our services at Edelweiss Dental," says Klaus.
"I must say, too, that I have been really pleased with the support being shown to me by the locals, and I have felt very welcomed by the people in South Down and the Ards Peninsula."
- Edleweiss Dental Practice, 2 The Square, Strangford, tel: 028 4488 1995