Brampton dental hygienist put her clinic on wheels

Originally published by the Globe and Mail

Driving down the road one day in 2013, Balbir Sohi found the answer to how she could bring improved oral health to the wider population. Ms. Sohi a dental hygienist and Tor in Brampton, Ont., had recently started a business offering her hygiene and education services to people in their homes, but she found it cumbersome and complex to bring along her equipment. Ahead of her in the traffic that day, she spotted a van and thought: Why not outfit a vehicle to become a travelling hygiene clinic?

Today Ms Sohi, 38, is the proud owner of Smiles of Wheels Mobile Dental Hygiene Care, moving around the GTA and beyond in a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, where she provides oral assessments, dental cleaning, scaling and polishing, fluoride treatments, sealants, teeth whitening, education and more. She has plans for a fleet of such vans in a franchise business that stretches across Canada.

“People have busy lifestyles. There are mothers caring for young kids, people on shift work, and seniors who have a hard time getting out to dental hygiene appointments,” says Ms. Sohi, “I can go [right] to their doorstep.”

It’s a business model that makes good economic sense for small businesses that provide specialty services and involve equipment and technology, according to Barry Sharp, CEO of AMA Management Ltd., a small business consultancy based in Vancouver.

“You can take a Sprinter and equip it and you’re spending less money than [with] a regular rental office, and you’re having more fun,” he says, noting that practitioners ranging from audiologists to kitchen remodellers and made-to-measure clothiers can go directly to their clients fully equipped, rather than requiring those clients to come to them. “You’re selling a service or product that doesn’t have to be in a big fancy show-room or office.”

Ms. Sohi started her career as a dental treatment coordinator in 2002 and then became a hygienist in a conventional dental practice. With new regulations in Ontario allowing hygienists like Ms. Sohi to operate solo, she started working in people’s homes and saw a need to reach out to the community, especially those who ignore their teeth for one reason or another. The van retrofitting was done to her specifications, with many an unbelieving contractor having to be convinced that the conversion would work according to Ms. Sohi’s vision. The result: a spacious climate-controlled interior that includes a chair, lighting, cabinets, running water, TV, camera and other equipment you would typically find.

Parents can wait with their children and stand to watch the procedures if they choose. She often schedule appointments for whole families on a weekend, and they can also all come for lessons on proper brushing, flossing and the rationale behind it. Other clients include people who have anxieties about visiting dental offices and especially busy executives on their lunch breaks or after work hours.

“People expect convenience. We value time over money,” says Myr. Sharp. “You’re giving customers what they want.” He also points out that there’s a booming market for such health services among the growing seniors’ population, who are becoming less mobile but are more affluent than ever before.

The van itself, brightly decorated with her logo and information about her services, functions as great advertising. “Many times on the highway, people call me and ask me about it when I’m driving by.”