Slovenians are now used to soft toothbrushes; the next challenge is to teach them to brush interdentally.
More than half of all toothbrushes sold in Slovenia come from the soft-toothbrush category, and Curaprox – with its 50% value market share of the total market – has a lot to do with that. According to Tadeja Osvald, managing director of the local Curaprox distributor, it’s all about having good products, continuous education, cooperation with dental professionals and an appropriate distribution network. In her interview, Tadeja elaborates more on the company’s success story and how it has influenced the most important thing – creating healthy habits of people.
You started your professional career as a maths teacher, and are now a managing director of a company distributing oral care products. How did this significant career shift come about?
I’ve always liked mathematics, but was not really sure how many new challenges that field of work would be able to offer me – and ultimately, it was not enough to stay, so after five years of teaching I moved into the world of oral health.
What were your beginnings in the company?
In 2008 I started as a marketing assistant, and helped with our first e-shop. Then I worked for two years in a dental centre of the same owner – this was a very good experience because I learned a lot about the dynamics of a dental office, which is extremely important when you work in this kind of business. I have seen first-hand how dental professionals work, and learned about their priorities, what they expect, and what kind of products they would stand for.
When I returned back to the company in 2012, I was responsible for Curaprox in our region – the whole former Yugoslavian region, meaning Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo. In addition to marketing, I was also responsible for iTOP and was involved in sales.
I was in touch with dental professionals via iTOP, organised events for end-consumers, gave oral-care lessons at schools and different kinds of educational events… and I was always happy to be able to communicate content that was bringing an obvious benefit to the user. When the company was sold to Curaden in 2016, I was entrusted with the position of managing director.
Now Curaprox is a well-known brand in Slovenia. What’s the secret behind their success?
I would say that to build a strong base for a brand like this, it needs to be developed in cooperation with dental professionals. The products must also bring some proven benefits to their patients in order to keep receiving recommendations and maintaining the loyalty of customers.
“I would say that to build a strong base for a brand like this, it needs to be developed in cooperation with dental professionals.”
Dental professionals are concerned with the kind of products their names are linked to, so the quality and ethical aspects of products must be consistent. However, products must be accessible to customers – both via physical distribution and online. Only with this link between professionals, customers and distribution we can ensure an appropriate flow.
What three things do you consider essential for a company’s success? What could you just not imagine working without?
A passionate team who fully believes in our vision, good quality and ethical products and good communication on every level – both within the company and externally to B2B or B2C. I think that with these three things you have the possibility to create a successful story that will remain bright long into the future.
In 2020 many businesses experienced tough times. How has your company been affected by the current Covid-19 crisis, and how have you responded to it?
Our sales were mostly affected by the changed conditions in dental offices and the changes to working hours of our distributional channels, as well as the changed purchasing habits of our customers. On the other hand, our online sales significantly increased in that period and have remained quite active since then, which is a positive switch.
The pandemic strongly affected our educational activities, and these are now slowly recovering with relevant adjustments having been made so as to ensure safety for participants as well as our lecturers and instructors. Moving a significant part of education online is of course a possibility, but I still believe we can only be partially successful if we are not doing in-person practical touch-to-teach training… so we are now working on solutions to get that going again as well.
Can you describe how the cooperation between Curaprox and dental professionals works in your country?
As Slovenia is quite small, it is possible for us to know almost every local dental professional in person. Regular visits by our reps, communication with them on the field, and getting their feedback on our products as well as our development processes are all very important to us. In order to support each other, we needed to build a real partnership with dental professionals, not based only on one-way sales but one, that results in support from both perspectives.
In addition, we believe that there is one additional important pillar – education. We offer a unique educational multilevel system for dental professionals (iTOP) and try to support their in-office communication with many other educational activities targeted at their patients. With educational content and other tools, which we prepare for this purpose, we try to support professionals’ in-office communication with their patients and can actually prolong its efficiency.
“Our products stand for efficiency, safety and quality, we don’t bring anything that could be harmful to the user and that kind of transparency seems to be appreciated by professionals.”
How many dental professionals are iTOP-trained in Slovenia?
We’ve been running iTOP in Slovenia since 2008, and more actively since 2012. At the moment almost half of all dental professionals in the country are iTOP trained. We have approximately 1,600 dentists and almost 200 dental hygienists, and more than 800 of them have attended at least one level of the iTOP course by now – the nice thing is that they like to come to listen to the content more than once. However, our iTOP seminars are also attended by other members of dental teams, given that it makes sense that every member of a dental team gives the same kind of information to a patient.
Another very important group for the oral care business is future professionals; current dental students. Do you cooperate with them in some way?
Absolutely. We organise educational events for dental students and invite them on regular iTOP seminars, and we also support projects that they organise – international student congress, internal newsletters, etc. They share their knowledge at educational events that we organise for primary schools, kindergartens, high schools and also at some events and workshops for the general public, where we strongly support the idea of practical learning. Students also support us in educational activities at points of sale.
Thanks to them our customers get professional support while deciding on a purchase, and students get the experience of communication with their potential future patients outside of the dental office, where they are much more open for conversation. I believe this is a really nice cooperation that benefits all parties.
What is your experience with the students? Do you think that this generation of dentists have a mindset more focused on prevention?
I believe we have already moved away from the mindset that dentists are there only for reparations. Many students and established dentists are aware that whatever they do – prosthetic work, implantology or orthodontic treatment – needs to be well maintained in order to preserve its function.
The success of any treatment is 50% the responsibility of the professional, and 50% the patient – who needs to maintain the work done. In our case this means that patients need to regularly clean their teeth and interdental spaces very well.
Do you think that the importance of prevention has also been adopted by the general public?
It is known that there is a higher level of prevention awareness. Presence of caries is lower and the DMF index has significantly fallen in the last 30 years in many countries, however, we are witnessing only minor improvements on this issue in the last few years, and in some countries are even seeing a negative trend, which is a bit concerning. Unfortunately, the situation with periodontal disease is not very optimistic.
There are studies now available that confirm the fact that a preventive educational program launched at a national level has a positive impact on people’s general awareness, and thus on the overall oral health of children and adults… so in regions where that kind of program is not yet in place, there is an opportunity to do this socially responsible work and support the future oral and general health of a nation, or as we are doing in Slovenia, to support existing national programs with our own tools and materials.
What is the level of oral health in Slovenia?
Considering our statistical measures, we are doing quite well – our DMF index is around 2. But I see it also from another perspective – we can see that wherever we have educational events for the general public, such as festivals and outdoor workshops, people are really pleased to be able to join, they are interested in the topic of oral hygiene and are open to learning new things.
Now we are receiving demands on events from for example parents whose children have already passed our education and now they correct their parents or grandparents while cleaning their teeth. They come to us asking for a training… so we had done something right in the past years.
So it seems that constant education makes sense.
Yes, we work a lot on educating many different groups of people – dental professionals, students, children and adults of different ages, pharmacy employees – but also our own employees. If our people do not know about our story, about our vision, we can not transfer it further. In addition, we’ve recently started to work with various companies and businesses, visiting so as to educate their employees.
That’s interesting. How does this education in the companies work?
We organise workshops for companies that offer health promotion programs in the workplace programs. This program is actually already obligatory for businesses, but not all of them put a significant level of attention on it. However, there are many private and public companies that already focus on the wellbeing of their employees and plan various healthcare activities during the year, one such possibility being oral care education.
During these workshops, employees listen to a lecture on the topic and are then practically trained by our instructors on how to properly brush their teeth and their interdental spaces in order to maintain lifelong preservation of their own teeth – which is also one of our general goals.
We have also worked with a big international insurance company that organises this kind of educational event for their clients. They give their clients the opportunity to participate in different events as an added value offer, and our oral-care workshop was a part of that offer – and was well accepted by their clients and their employees.
Are your educational activities part of your sales strategy?
We never give products to anyone without some education. It’s not chocolate. I say that our toothbrushes and their softness speak for themselves, but everything depends on the type of person. If you give this toothbrush to someone who has been using a hard toothbrush, the feedback would most likely be negative because they would perceive it as ‘too soft’, or they would likely not use it correctly, putting too much pressure, and therefore not get the best results.
So, we need to teach people how to use our toothbrushes and, even more importantly, our interdental brushes, and educate them on how their health can actually benefit from using them properly.
“We never give products to anyone without some education. It’s not chocolate.”
Is interdental brushing something that you need to get more people doing?
Increasing people’s awareness of how important it is to not forget to clean the interdental spaces is something that I see as a challenge. People generally still believe that interdental cleaning is about removing pieces of food and see it as an activity that is only needed occasionally, however, it is even more important than brushing teeth with a regular toothbrush and it needs to get more attention. It is also very important that it is being done with the right tools of the right sizes, as we are all unique and so are our interdental spaces.
So, let’s talk about the products… What is your absolute favourite product that you couldn’t imagine your day without?
For me our toothbrush speaks for itself. After using it regularly, if you were to start using a harder brush your gums will hurt very quickly. And it is the same in the case of our hydrosonic toothbrush – the only sonic toothbrush that is both gentle and very efficient.
However, I believe that our CPS prime interdental brushes are even more important – at least they are to me. I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking around and talking to people if I hadn’t used them… using them was even the last thing I did before I gave birth to my both children (smile).
So, yeah, if I need to pick one, then the interdental brush is my number one.