As Vanessa Creaven walks around her lovely home just outside Galway, she points out various highlights, and as she does so, a certain pattern emerges.
The highlights include the solid wood floors which her sister Lisa’s husband, Patrick, sourced for her, and which Lisa has in her house too; the kitchen units made by Alan Flannery, who had also done Lisa’s kitchen when she moved into her house; and the unusual drinks cabinet in the formal living room, which Vanessa explains came from Panfili in the Liosban Industrial Estate, “Lisa has one, too,” Vanessa says, adding with a laugh, “I copied her.” Lisa jumps in, also laughing: “It’s a theme in our lives, I got it first.”
The same thing happened with their profession: Lisa is the older of the two, she studied dentistry, and Vanessa went on to do the same. You could say she copied her there, too. Not that Lisa is complaining – so far, it has all worked out very well. Not only have they an extremely busy practice together in Galway, called Quay Dental, but they’ve also developed a successful brand of teeth-whitening strips and, more recently, an extensive range of toothpastes, which is being stocked in Dunnes Stores and Tesco here in Ireland, is available in pharmacies throughout the UK and Finland, and will be stocked in 1,000 Ulta Stores in the US.
These are fantastic achievements by any standard, but all the more remarkable considering they have neither a medical nor an entrepreneurial background. “Dad is an engineer; Mum is a special needs assistant, and we lived on a farm,” says Lisa, the eldest of four. “I don’t know where the dentistry came from. I always liked health sciences, and dentistry ticked a lot of boxes for me – it’s practical, and you can work for yourself.”
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Vanessa isn’t the only sibling who followed Lisa into dentistry. Lisa went to Trinity; Paul, who studied engineering initially, went back to college to UCC and did dentistry, and is now abroad. The youngest, Alma, who recently joined Quay Dental, also went to UCC.
Needless to mention, Vanessa studied at Trinity like her big sister. Lisa opened Quay Dental in 2010, and Vanessa joined her a few years later.
The two young women are absolutely passionate about their profession, and zealous about wanting the public in general, and their patients in particular, to sit up and take notice of oral hygiene and oral health.
“People tend to focus on decay,” says Lisa. “However, your mouth is like a window on your overall health. We can see if you have diabetes; if it’s not well controlled. There are proven links between diabetes and poor oral health. If you’re going through stress, you can see that reflected in your gums and teeth. If you’re having a hip replacement, the first place they’ll send you is the dentist, because your teeth are the biggest source of infection for operations like that.”
Like all dentists nowadays, cosmetic work is a big part of their practice, and the teeth-whitening products came about three years ago when patients started asking them for ways of whitening their own teeth at home. “Patients were saying they wanted to whiten their teeth, but they didn’t want to spend €300 every time they did it,” says Lisa. “They wanted to do it little and often, and our strips enabled them to do that.”
As luck would have it, there was a key change in the regulations around the manufacture of whitening agents, which enabled the sisters to get in on the act. “Basically, a law was brought in to the effect that you could only put so much of an active ingredient into a product, and that resulted in a lot of the products on the market being pulled as they were in breach of that law, so we saw an opening,” says Vanessa.
Creating their own toothpaste brand was a natural progression, and the Spotlight range of five different toothpastes was born. “Looking at the toothpaste aisle, we can categorise toothpaste in two big groups: the mass-market products that contain the clinically-proven active ingredients that we recommend as dentists, but some of them are also full of other questionable or even toxic additives, such as the likes of sulphates, which have been linked with exacerbation of ulcers in the mouth.” says Vanessa, adding, “They’ve also been linked with asthma in children when used over a prolonged period of time, and they’ve been linked with systemic side effects as well, like your liver and kidney function, and female infertility.
“And then you have the newer toothpastes that are free of the toxic additives, but they generally don’t contain elements that are clinically proven to help oral health. They’re free of nasties but they’re often also free of active ingredients, so basically they’re not doing any good for the teeth.” The sisters realised that there was a gap in the market, an opening for products that are organic or good for you, but still contain active ingredients.
Lisa goes on to elaborate: “Your mouth is probably one of the most absorbent parts of your body, far more absorbent than your skin, so it is very important what products you use.”
Vanessa concludes: “When we use ingredients in our mouths, they go directly into our bloodstream. We’re all so concerned what we are putting on our skin, and we should be, but we should be even more concerned about what we’re putting in our toothpaste.”
Most of us tend to find a toothpaste we like and continue to use it throughout our lives, but Vanessa and Lisa say that different teeth have different needs, and to that end, they have developed a collection of five different products.
“Some people think ‘one size fits all’. ‘Bright white smile’ – phrases like that are meaningless. Oral health differs from one person to the next,” says Lisa. “Some people have a genetic tendency towards gum disease, others have thinner teeth – oral health is an individual thing. We want our patients to be informed as to their own specific needs, and we want Spotlight to be the brand that created the best-in-class products.”
They get top marks for sustainability – their tubes are 100pc recyclable. “The oral-care industry is a major player in waste and the build-up of plastic – 250 million toothpaste tubes ended up in landfill in 2018 between Ireland and the UK, so the fact that our products are sustainable is very important to us,” says Lisa.
The two glamorous blondes are a great advertisement for their own products and skills; they have perfect teeth, with not a filling between them, and needless to mention, when they do need some dental work, they do each others’. Lisa did Vanessa’s Invisalign – a method of teeth straightening using clear braces – while Vanessa took out Lisa’s wisdom teeth last year.
Interestingly, Vanessa doesn’t love going to the dentist. “I’m very squeamish in the chair, I hate even having my teeth cleaned, and we’re not very nice to each other when we’re doing the work,” she says with a laugh, adding, “Of course, we are very, very nice to our patients.”
For sisters who are so close, it won’t come as a surprise that they live near each other in a lovely rural area mere miles from Galway city.
Lisa and her husband, Patrick, met at an entrepreneurs’ conference in 2012. They now have three children, Julia (four), Margaret (two), and Gwyneth, (nine months), and they picked the area as Patrick is from there. Six months ago, Vanessa and her husband, Barry, a civil engineer, also chose the location. The women love it, as it has the rural feel they experienced growing up on the farm, yet it is within minutes of the city.
Vanessa and Barry moved into their brand new house just six months ago. The couple married in 2018 after a courtship of four years; needless to mention, Lisa played a part in them originally getting together. “We met at Lisa’s engagement party,” Vanessa explains, while Lisa adds: “My husband, Patrick, likes to throw a big party.”
Given that Vanessa’s house is 4,000 square feet and has five bedrooms, and a spacious kitchen, with several gorgeous living/reception areas, there’s no doubt a fair few parties could be held in Vanessa’s house too, if and when they find a moment away from the practice and the business.
Edited by Mary O’Sullivan
Photography by David Conachy
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