Smile Together – Our EO Story

Smile Together launched in 2016 as an employee-owned dental community interest company covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. As one of the South West’s largest NHS referral and emergency dental care providers we deliver urgent and emergency dental treatments for people who don’t have their own dentist, run out-of-hours surgeries and apply expert skills to treat children and adults with a range of special care needs alongside oral surgery, children’s orthodontics and treatments under general anaesthetic in a hospital setting. We also deliver NHS care and competitively priced private dentistry from practices based in the heart of their communities, see children for free and run dedicated clinics for children in care.

Our mission is to tackle oral health inequality, creating healthier happier communities.

An award-winning and innovative social enterprise, we have clear rules about reinvesting our profits back into patient facilities and our community. Our Brighter Smiles campaign brings practical tooth-brushing clubs, fluoride varnishing and oral health education to children in areas of high decay across Cornish communities, while Smiles At Sea sees our team visiting harboursides across Cornwall and Devon providing dental treatments and oral health advice to fisherfolk who rarely visit a dentist due to the demands of their work.

We’re a committed and friendly team of c:100 dentists, therapists, dental nurses and professional support colleagues all of whom put our people and our patients first. 99% of those eligible are now opted-in shareholders.

We opened a brand-new, purpose-designed accessible dental centre in Bodmin in May 2019, transforming dentistry provision in the county for patients who need us most and for which we secured £1m social investment from Big Issue Invest.

Prior to the pandemic we were positively motoring along, working in partnership and meeting and in many cases exceeding our performance and social impact targets. In line with Public Health England guidance we initially had to pause all dental service delivery but were very proud when our Bodmin Dental Centre was chosen by NHS England as the county’s first Urgent Dental Care Hub in 2020. This remains one of four that we continue to operate alongside coordinating all countywide Hub referrals.

Thank goodness for employee-ownership and our engaged, dedicated, professional teams!

From creative thinking around enforced service-adjustments and new working practices alongside the all-important patient communications, we re-opened in Bodmin ahead of schedule on Saturday 11th April 2020 and began once again seeing patients face-to-face.

Working on the frontline of urgent care during a pandemic was really tough, compounded by the ever-changing national guidance and PPE shortages. Safety for our people and our patients was paramount and everyone pulled together. We also had tremendous support from the dental community during this unprecedented time – we wanted nothing more than to announce that our first Hub for Cornwall was open and shine a light on our collective contribution but refrained to avoid inadvertently driving up patient demand by doing so.

Meanwhile our professional services colleagues were now all working from home, enabled by our IT team who fast-tracked their 3-year strategy for a more ethically and environmentally minded way of working whilst also ensuring that everyone could effectively adapt and keep working productively through and beyond the recent lockdown.

We already had a strong focus on health and wellbeing and Smile Together internal communications channels were well-embedded prior to the pandemic with a weekly newsletter and intranet now complemented by regular, specific Covid-19 updates to ensure our colleagues felt informed and reassured about their safety and security. We also introduced monthly virtual updates in direct response to any issues or concerns arising as well as quarterly business performance reports so that everyone could see how well we were doing despite all the challenges. This, complemented by regular patient communications, helped us build and maintain trust, understanding and reassurance at a time of such unprecedented challenge and change.  Whilst there is of course much that we can improve upon, colleagues confirmed through our Employee Engagement Survey that we’ve communicated well and the Perception Survey undertaken amongst internal and external stakeholders is leading us consolidate our brand so that patients better understand who is providing their care and the impact we have in local communities.

Unsurprisingly the pandemic brought our EO elected body even more sharply into focus so we took the opportunity to relaunch this as our ‘Shareholder Impact Board’ (SIB) – thank you to those EOA members who joined in this debate via the EOHub! We recruited an additional three representatives to join the existing four, revised our aims and objectives, produced a Roadmap to outline our collective ambitions and implemented a rota whereby two representatives regularly attend each Smile Together Board and other formal committee meetings.  This involvement in strategic governance and leadership further enhancing engagement and communications at all levels within the organisation. Collectively they’d achieved so much they were invited to lead our virtual Smile Together Open Board meeting in June 2020 and SIB are doing so again this month in person!

We’ve always encouraged colleagues to be creative and innovative and have a genuine voice in our business. Some changes implemented as a consequence of Covid-19, particularly around patient care pathways and skill mix, have been so successful that they’ll be retained and further enhanced long term. We’re shifting from just centrally-coordinated social impact projects like Brighter Smiles and Smiles At Sea to local teams having greater autonomy to engage charity partners in their communities to improve the oral health of vulnerable families and individuals together – they’ve already made up and donated well over 1,000 oral health packs!

We have a shared ambition to become more environmentally friendly, with recycling and sustainable procurement initiatives already well underway, and have committed to B Corp accreditation.As we couldn’t take a mobile dental unit to harboursides in September 2020 and our Brighter Smiles team weren’t able to go out visiting schools, nurseries and family hubs due to the pandemic we instead delivered an oral health campaign to fishermen and their families. They also created 4 virtual oral health educational films targeting children aged 3-5 years as a resource for families and school communities to use during lockdown and commissioned a Plymouth University media arts student to animate Dylan the Dragon and the Sugarbugs – finding new ways to keep good oral health practices top of mind.

Last year, as a thank you for colleagues’ dedication and commitment during such challenging times,  Smile Together generously paid every employee a bonus and for the first time introduced the concept of a dividend. The Smile Together Board have literally just recommended that a dividend be payable for 2020/2021 and that this go forward for shareholder approval at a Shareholder meeting being planned for 15th July. On top of everything else, this is really bringing employee-ownership to life for us!

We really enjoyed being part of EO Boost 2020 and in the last year our team has been recognised in a number of national awards including the Dental Awards, Third Sector Business Charity Awards and Society of British Dental Nurses Awards – well deserved recognition for everyone who makes such a difference to our patients, our business, our community and one another.