Million-dollar smile Featured

7:00am EDT December 17, 2003
Americans are becoming more comfortable with spending their consumer dollars on specialized health care procedures. And in response, the big players in the health care industry are realizing that relying solely on Medicare and insurance reimbursements will not sustain a high growth strategy.

A number of health care providers are looking toward consumer products to increase profits, and nowhere is this trend more prevalent than in procedures that affect appearance.

"We don't want to look old," says A.C. Uveges II, dentist and co-partner of the Uveges-Heimke Group, a practice specializing in aesthetic dentistry. "The baby boom population wants to be part of the game. Look at Botox; there is no stigma anymore."

The rise in the number of procedures such as Botox injections, facelifts and breast augmentation highlights the trend of people willing to spend money outside of insurance premiums for medical and quasi-medical procedures, including aesthetic dentistry or veneers -- a process well-known to the Hollywood crowd and gaining popularity in Northeast Ohio.

"We have one of the first populations of people who will finish life with a full set of teeth," says Uveges' partner, John Heimke.

Heimke says the ravages of time, improper bite, coffee, smoking and dentistry's newest foe, tongue piercing, change and damage teeth, affecting a person's smile and self-confidence.

The veneer procedure is noninvasive, requires two three-hour visits and, at most, involves a local anesthetic. During the first visit, patients are photographed and evaluated, and a digital image is created to simulate changes in tooth size, bite and color. This information is sent to a lab, where the veneers are produced. On the second visit, the patient is fitted with the permanent veneers.

Heimke and Uveges use all the latest lab equipment, including Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software, but they are quick to add that there is an art to the process.

"Just by changing the angle and light, you can affect proportions," Heimke says. "We can add to the bottom teeth or subtract from the top to change the perception."

Everything is customized, and patients can choose how many teeth they want to veneer.

"On average, for about 10 teeth, it may cost from $8,000 to $10,000," says Uveges. "You can have three years of braces or two appointments, and get the same results."

The procedure accounts for almost 40 percent of new business for the office, where Uveges and Heimke are finding that more and more professionals feel it's worth the cost.

"When they decide they want something, they want it," says Heimke.

He adds that when it comes to health care, baby boomers are willing to spend more for what they perceive as a better value.

"People say I want the best there is. They don't say, 'I want what my insurance will pay for,'" he says.

This entrepreneurial role is familiar territory for the dental industry, which is used to having its services treated as elective rather than medically necessary. However, these dentists are learning to be much more aggressive in their marketing campaigns and to increase customer service.

"We try to create a 'spa-like' atmosphere in our office," says Uveges.

It's a new atmosphere, catering to a new, older clientele with an impressive amount of expendable income.

It all comes down to the value of self-esteem, Uveges says, whether you're a salesperson, a CEO or, like one patient, a retired 80-something.

"I had one patient tell me, 'I felt so good (after the procedure), I went out and bought a Corvette,'" he says. How to reach: The Uveges-Heimke Group (877) 586-6470


We're so vain

More than 6 million women and 1 million men in 2001 decided there was something about them they wanted to change or enhance.

Topping the list of surgical procedures were lipoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast augmentation, nose reshaping and facelifts. The top five nonsurgical procedures were botulinum toxin injections, chemical peels, collagen injections, micro dermabrasions and laser hair removal.

* There were nearly $8.5 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures performed in 2001.

* From 1997 to 2001, there was a 304 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures.

* From 2000 to 2001, there was a 48 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures.

* Baby boomers ages 35 to 50 had the most procedures - 44 percent of all procedures performed.

* Those ages 51 to 64 receive 25 percent of all cosmetic procedures performed.

* People ages 19 to 34 had 22 percent of all cosmetic procedures performed.

* Those ages 65 and older had 5 percent of all cosmetic procedures performed.

* From 1997 to 2002, the number of Botox injections increased from 700,000 a year to 1.7 million a year.

Source:The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery