By Danny Chan
At 67, veteran dentist Dr Tom Hudson concedes that the option to retire appears logical, but for the moment, he is enjoying his work too much to be considering it. Far from trading in his rotary handpiece for a fishing rod, the indefatigable dental surgeon has done quite the opposite.
“I love dentistry. I love work”, says Tom, imbuing the passions that led him to set up a new 5-chair surgery in the satellite town of Wallan, located on the fringe of metropolitan Melbourne some 45 kilometers from the CBD.
About 6 months ago, Hudson joined the small but expanding fraternity of dental surgeons in the quaint township by setting up Wallan Dental. Converted from a domestic residence, the state-of-the-art surgery includes what Hudson refers to as “whizbang” features like dental chairs with fiber-optic devices, digital xray machines, OPG unit and fully computerized practice management system. That doesn’t sound like a project for a would-be retiree.
“Work has never been an issue for me, although I do prefer using my hands and creating rather than consulting,” declares the straight-talking dental surgeon, who used to practice medicine as a GP, before moving into full-time dentistry in 1998.
“GPs sit around all day behind their desks writing scripts but I’m more inclined towards the mechanical side of dentistry,” Tom determines, with a certain swagger that only a person of his age and stature could pull off, without sounding pompous.
It’s a better lifestyle
Although he started out in dentistry, Hudson went back to study medicine at age 32 and completed his internship at 40. With wife and two children in tow, he arrived in Kilmore financially drained but determined to find his feet as the local GP. That was 29 years ago, when Kilmore – an old inland town that sits between Wallan and Heathcote – was the only commercial center in that region.
“Back then, Kilmore was the town and Wallan had a couple of little shops and a garage, and that was all. Today, Wallan has 8000 people and they’re predicting that between 7 to 8 years, there’ll be 20,000,” Hudson beams, with a tinge of local pride.
The Wallan resident cannot be blamed for feeling sentimental about his town, since moving out here was more than simply a turning point in his career. After all, home is where the heart is – especially one that offers a semi-country lifestyle that most people only dream about.
Indulging our fantasies, Hudson talks about his 300-acre home property with its own farm, animals, swimming pool and tennis court; trips to the beachfront holiday home; and frequenting Wallan’s own private golf course.
“It’s just been a great lifestyle. The family’s here – both my daughter and son live in the area – and there’s a great sense of community, especially since we practically know everybody in town.”
Before you interpret Tom’s leisurely activities as a sign that he’s already in semi-retirement mode, he religiously divides his time between the Kilmore dental clinic – which he also owns – and Wallan Dental, where he drops in for work every Wednesday.
As a businessman, Hudson too remains firmly engaged. With Wallan’s potential for economic and population growth in mind, Hudson evaluates that his AUD$800,000 investment would break even in the first year.
Just as he assumes calculated risks, Hudson readily accepts change, evidenced by his adoption of new technologies and the modern ways by which he runs the clinic.
Though admittedly, it took some convincing by his daughter and practice manager before he decided to go paperless – installing a practice management system for the new surgery – little nudging was needed for Hudson to migrate onto the digital space, or go fiber optical, as it were.
Dental chairs a good buy
As Hudson shopped for dental chairs for the new surgery, high on his list of priorities was that they needed to have scalers and fiber optics. Not one to compromise on quality, Hudson wasn’t prepared to accept just any merchandise based on a brand name, which often comes with an oversized price tag, either.
In his research, he came across an ANZ Dental brochure, which immediately aroused his curiosity.
“They were offering a dental chair for under AUD$20,000 whereas the competition was probably charging four times more, for the same features. I had to see for myself what it was all about.”
Hudson visited ANZ Dental’s showroom in Sunshine West, Victoria – the Australian company had since outgrown its Sunshine premises and moved to the more centrally located Burwood – duly impressed by what he saw. In addition to fiber optic handpieces and scalers, the chairs included features like curing lights, automatic cup fillers, multiple presets, sensor lights as well as what Hudson thought was an amazing central suction arrangement. The chairs also complied with stringent Australian sterilization standards.
Says Hudson: “It fitted all the requirements as far as sterilization goes. With all the pressure on dentists to keep hygiene control up to mark, we know that we can fulfill all our requirements with this unit without any hassle.”
Hudson ended up purchasing five units of the Katherine series’ K2D, a kneebreak model with a dentist side delivery tray system. Andrew Jarrett, Managing Director of ANZ Dental, elaborates:
“Kneebreak dental chairs are popular for several reasons. Firstly they are easy to enter and exit, thus suitable for all patients, young and old. Secondly they are extremely comfortable for patients and have the added benefit that the chair can be returned to a normal sitting position should the dentist want to chat or discuss anything with their patients.
“Most importantly they offer a great space-saving option for smaller surgeries. Katherine series chairs, when returned to an upright sitting position, are very compact as compared to sofa style dental units. We have also seen a trend in the last few years away from hanging arm delivery systems towards the newer, more modern side delivery systems.”
With a 3-year warranty and full backup servicing on his dental chairs, Hudson need not worry about breakdowns and potentially costly stoppages. Hudson rationalizes:
“With the warranty, we figured that even if all the chairs were to break down simultaneously after 3 years – which isn’t likely going to happen – we still wouldn’t have lost very much, as opposed to buying the more costly alternative.
“We've been operating all five chairs for about six months now, and haven’t experienced a single hiccup. As for after-sales service, Kris the sales and technical rep, comes in regularly to make sure everything is running smoothly. Based on patient and staff feedback, we’re very happy with the chairs.”
For business and leisure
Since it started operations six months ago, Wallan Dental has been enjoying brisk business thriving on word-of-mouth recommendations. For someone who has spent the last 30 years servicing patients in Kilmore and its surrounding regions, Hudson sees a growth trend in dental demand for Melbourne’s outlying townships. He says:
“Such demand can be seen by the healthy incomes of country dentists, which according to statistics, are outstripping those of their peers who work in the city.”
Likewise, Wallan has been tipped to become a fast growing residential region, offering jaded city dwellers a quiet country lifestyle framed against the picturesque backdrop of the Great Dividing Range.
For Hudson, locating his practice here, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, makes more than just practical business sense.
“It takes me 3 minutes to travel from home to work. I have the luxury of taking my lunch at home or walking to the nearby library at lunchtime, without having to put up with noisy traffic, which you probably do, commuting within the city. I park my car right outside the clinic – no parking lots or trains to catch.
“I have found that it’s the little things that make working out here so desirable.”