Tooth or Dare

This dentist to the stars tells us why we’re wasting money on mouthwash and off-the-shelf teeth whitening products.

The Moneymaker

DR RONNIE YAP, 47, principal dentist at Orchard Scotts Dental, and dentist to the stars. One of the pioneers of the Invisalign teeth-straightening treatment here 10 years ago, the clinic recently moved to bigger, swankier digs at Liat Towers (it now has an Invisalign-dedicated clinic and an aesthetics dentistry-focused outfit side by side) where you might just run into famous clients like Sheila Sim, Nat Ho or Kelly Poon.

HOME IS: A townhouse in Tanah Merah, where he lives with his wife and two kids.

HIS RIDE IS: A Volvo V60 station wagon. “I go standup paddling on weekends, so I need a car that can hold all the surfing boards,” he quips.

WHAT’S IN HIS WALLET: Two personal credit cards, one company credit card, an Isetan membership card, name cards, and a family photo. “I keep my wallet in my right pocket and my cash separately in my left pocket. I don’t like my wallet to be bulky,” he says.

8 DAYS: Is it an occupational hazard for dentists to check out someone’s teeth when you first meet them, even in a social setting?

DR RONNIE YAP: (Guffaws) Yes, but we try not to. The moment I look at a person, I know what needs to be done. People suddenly get really self-conscious when they realise they’re talking to a dentist.

We hear that you’re known as the Jerry Yan of dentists. How did that happen?

It’s because of my hairstyle. It first happened when another dentist called me F4. I associated it with Formula racing, because in racing, they have F1 all the way to F6. I thought that he was implying that I was a wannabe. Then I realised he was referring to the boyband. This hairdo is my signature look. I’ve had it ever since we made a conscious decision to focus on aesthetics dentistry 10 years ago. It’s sort of an impression thing, so you don’t come across too serious to customers.

How much do you spend on grooming each month?

Actually, the only thing that I really spend on is my hair. I pay $80 to $120 to get my hair cut at a salon in Wheelock Place. I also spend about $30 on hair wax or clay. For my skin, I just use normal soap or a simple face wash. I only shop for clothes once every six months or so, but each time, I buy a lot. If something’s nice, I buy two or three of [the same item]. I think on average I spend about $300 to $500 a month on clothes.

What was your last splurge?

Two Massimo Dutti suits that cost about $800 each. I was going to do a presentation at the Invisalign Asia Pacific meeting in Macau and was invited to a dinner with the board of directors from the US, so I needed a suit for each occasion. The cut fits me very well, and I didn’t even have to alter the suits.

When was the last time you were shocked by your credit card bill?

I’m quite careful with spending on my credit cards — I don’t have any credit card debt, and I keep track of what I sign. But I get shocked by my company credit card bills. We order equipment and supplies for Invisalign on that card. If we have a lot of cases in a month, the bill can be quite high, like a five-figure sum. I still get a shock, but at least it’s a good shock.

What financial advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Buy property as soon as you can afford it. Of course, the market is different at the moment. I regret not buying property early enough. I bought my first property at 26. Although I could afford a second one then, I chose to rent instead. At that time, it was better to rent — prices were low, but the interest rates were high, so your installment per month was a lot more than the rental. At the moment, I have two properties here, including the one I’m staying in, and also three in Australia and New Zealand.

What’s one thing related to dental health that people are wasting money on?

Mouthwash. Most research shows that it’s not essential unless you’re very prone to tooth decay, in which case you should use a fluoride mouthwash. But if you’re already using fluoride toothpaste, that’s already better than using mouthwash as the toothpaste is in your mouth for a longer time than a [quick rinse] of mouthwash. Some people who use mouthwash think they don’t have to brush so thoroughly or they can skip flossing, when actually flossing is most important. Also, don’t waste money on off-the-shelf teeth whitening
kits in Singapore. The government is strict about the concentration of whitening gel that can be sold over the counter — only gels with 0.1 per cent or lower concentration can be sold over the counter. Dentists routinely use gels with 10 to 20 per cent.

Orchard Scotts Dental is at #07-01/02 Liat Towers, 541 Orchard Rd. Go to http://www.orchardscottsdental.com for more info.