Inside Curaden

CEO of Curaden Ueli Breitschmid: “Dentists should be health coaches”

The importance of brushing your teeth properly and being educated in good oral health practices are two principles that Ueli Breitschmid, CEO of Curaden, stands for. Curaden sees the future of dentistry as professional education and the process in which dentists become trained health coaches, going hand in hand with the holistic approach. Read our interview with the CEO, to find out more about Curaden and the issues the company faces today.

Curaden was founded by your father, Hans Breitschmid, more than 60 years ago. Do you remember how it all began?

I was involved when I was a child, but at that time there wasn’t yet a company. My father was a dental technician and he officially founded the company in 1954, but in the very beginning we were not selling products – it was all about providing solutions. That’s something that hasn’t changed. Since the very beginning, everything about Curaden has been related to education, education and education. 

My father was the first in Europe to make courses for dental technicians, so they could learn new technologies. It is a tradition in our company – not just to buy products cheap and sell them at a higher price, but to sell solutions that make people want our products. We adopted this same concept for our interdental brushes, toothbrushes and mouthwashes.

“Since the very beginning, everything about Curaden has been related to education, education and education.”

You officially joined the company in 1966. What was your vision for Curaden and CURAPROX – the in-house brand for dental products that you have since brought to the company?

I never wanted to be a seller or manufacturer of products that go directly to consumers, I only wanted to give dentists the best possible products for their patients. From this position we were able to build a relationship of trust, and the image that we have today, with the dental profession worldwide. They know that CURAPROX means products that they can both use on and recommend to their patients and that they will have the best possible results.

When we look at most oral care brands, they seem to talk mainly about white teeth, fresh breath and avoiding tooth decay. But Curaden’s approach to dentistry is holistic. What exactly does this mean?

The holistic approach means that a person’s overall health starts in the mouth. Almost everything that influences wellbeing and people’s general health, goes through the mouth. We express our thoughts through words that come from our mouths; even sexuality and erotics have links to the mouth. The mouth is really an important part of the body from both a social, and a health perspective.

According to the holistic approach, dental care is not only about repairing teeth and filling and drilling, but it’s about seeing the mouth as the origin to everything in our lives, so there should be a far bigger focus on consulting and taking care. As I see it, all doctors of the future will need to have a holistic approach.

“As I see it, all doctors of the future will need to have a holistic approach.”

You are also a pioneer in interdental brushes. How did you come to the idea that this was the way to move dental care forward?

I worked as a salesman for my father’s company when it started supplying dental products. When visiting dentists, a number of them asked me, “Ueli, why don’t you have these spiral brushes?”.

They explained to me how they were used, and I started to research how to make something similar. This was in the early 1970s, and spiral brushes already existed in Sweden – and looked like pipe cleaners. I realised that we should make them smaller, so more people could use them and so that dentists could make the open spaces between crowns more aesthetic. This was actually our breakthrough: making these spiral brushes thinner than anybody else had previously. 

Nowadays interdental brushes are quite common, but from my point of view, not everybody uses them properly. Interdental brushes should be coached to become a commodity, just like a toothpick. And people need to understand them; they need to know the right size for them. We are trying to find a solution to educate consumers. That’s our goal now… Our job is to find the millions of people that want to be perfectly healthy and happy with their mouth’s health, and then they need to understand that they need a coach. This then becomes a business thing for dentists. 

Interdental brushing is a core part of dental care, but many people still do not understand it and it can be hard to persuade them to add this one more important habit into their routine. What are your arguments for using interdental brushes? 

Based on the ideas of our most influential expert and teacher Jiří Sedlmayer, we made the interdental brushes primarily for prevention. When people brush and clean between their teeth properly, they stay healthy and do not need dentists to repair their teeth.

Interdental brushing is our core competence, because that’s where the foundation of healthy gums really begins. However, proper interdental care needs a more sophisticated selection of the right size of brushes as well as the appropriate techniques to use them. Simply put, people need a coach to learn how to use interdentals properly.

“Since your overall health is so closely related to your oral health, it is not possible to be a happy and healthy person without good oral health.”

How do you see the current role of dentists?

Dentists should be health coaches. Since your overall health is so closely related to your oral health, it is not possible to be a happy and healthy person without good oral health. It’s simply not possible. Therefore, dentists could have a far bigger field of activities, but unfortunately they are not educated in this way. 

After the war, the oral health of the population was poor: there were many instances of caries – a lot of tooth decay, and not enough dentists to deal with it. Dentists were just trained to drill holes and extract teeth, so they have learned to earn their livings by doing repairs. And until this education is modified, it is difficult for dentists to make money from preventive consulting and coaching people on how to stay healthy.

I am sure that perfect oral health is not achievable without a coach. So firstly, we need to educate dental professionals to be coaches. It can be our job to initiate this, but this is ultimately the job of the universities and schools. On the other side, we have to provide the online know-how and services that will enable people to do their own oral care learning. I would say that it will take another 15 years from now to reach this goal. 

“Perfect oral health is not achievable without a coach.”

Our real job is to influence the education of dentists. In the meantime, we try to sell our toothbrushes – from which we fortunately make a nice profit, giving us the ability to do all the other things that are not as profitable, but are very meaningful.

Like your own educational system of individually trained oral prophylaxis: iTOP?

Yes, our iTOP seminars give dentists the knowledge on the individual technique of how to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and how to be able to share these methods with their patients. We already have about 60 top-level teachers all over the world. 

At this point, I have to mention Jiří Sedlmayer again. He was a dentist who was teaching in Hamburg. He discovered our products here in Switzerland in a pharmacy and started to ask me for samples for his students. That’s how Jiří became both my friend and my business partner. And actually, my most important teacher, because I am not a dentist – everything I know, I have learned from dentists and dental technicians. Jiří worked hard on perfecting his teaching method, which today we call iTop. In these seminars, our lecturers train oral prophylaxis and show how to motivate people to enjoy toothbrushing, and how to do it right, because liking and doing it correctly is not exactly the same thing, but at the end of the day – it should be. 

It’s obvious that education is a very important part of Curaden’s philosophy, but there’s also the unique design of your products. Does the unique design of CURAPROX toothbrushes also play a role in this mission?

The decision to make our toothbrushes colourful was the idea of Max Wettach, designer at Curaden, who told me that we need to make our toothbrushes more attractive. He started to propose these colour combinations, and we were able to make something that people like to look at and that made them start to love brushing their teeth. This is something we never planned, actually, but it happened and this is what has made us so successful. But if you planned something like this and tried to do it, I’m sure it would not be possible.

What is your absolute favourite CURAPROX product? 

My favourite is the Black is White toothpaste. I think it is our best product, because it gives you great freshness and doesn’t dry your mouth. It has some hydroxyapatite that creates a blue shine effect on the teeth and a pearl shine reflection, making teeth even whiter. I also like our toothbrushes, I use our 5460 on a daily basis.

Ueli Breitschmid is the owner and CEO of Curaden, a Swiss oral health company. He joined the family business in 1966, 12 years after his father Hans founded it in 1954. He has been an instrumental part of making the company what it is today – a global pioneer in the dental industry. In 1973 he founded the brand of dental-care products CURAPROX. Ueli is also interested in viniculture and gastronomy.

Photography by Lousy Auber