Smiles Dental plans further expansion in Republic following sale for more than €42m

Founder says move will help prevent price inflation in dentistry

Smiles Dental has 77 practices in Ireland and Britain; and a turnover of €84 million a year.


Smiles Dental, Ireland's largest privately-owned dental care provider, plans to expand further in the Republic after it was acquired yesterday by Oasis Healthcare for an undisclosed sum.

The Irish group has 77 practices in Ireland and Britain with a turnover of €84 million a year.

It is thought its business, which has 17 clinics in Ireland, was sold for more than £35 million (€42.5 million). Smiles Dental was founded in 2005 by businessman Emmet O'Neil and orthodontist Hugh Bradley. It employs 350 dentists and 650 other staff.

Its new owner, Oasis Healthcare, is Britain’s largest provider of dental care and, post the acquisition of Smiles, it will have a turnover of £210 million and three million private and public sector patients. There will be 280 dental practices in its group once the transaction is complete.

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Oasis is owned by private equity firm Bridgepoint, which among other businesses also owns Pret a Manger, the ready-to-eat salad and sandwich maker.

The UK dental care firm is led by Justin Ash and chaired by Stuart Rose, the former Marks & Spencer executive chairman.

Speaking to The Irish Times following the sale of his business, Mr O'Neil (34) said he plans to continue to work with Oasis Healthcare in a business development role. Mr Bradley, he said, was a "visionary" but he would be focusing on his private practice after the sale.


Focus on UK
Mr O'Neil said Smiles' focus over the last 18 months had been on the UK after it acquired British dental chain James Hull Associates, which has 74 practices. The deal was reported at the time to value JHA at up to £20 million (€25 million).

“Smiles will definitely be looking again at expansion in Ireland,” Mr O’Neil said. “We will open between six and seven new outlets [in the Republic] this side of Christmas.”

He said this was on top of two new outlets already in the works including one in Dundalk and one near the Marker Hotel in Dublin's technology hub the Grand Canal Docks area.

“We were looking for a partner to help Smiles reach the next level and had examined a number of options. When I met Sir Stuart and Justin Ash, I realised there was a shared approach and a matched ambition at Oasis,” Mr O’Neil said.

“I. . . look forward to working hard, not only to integrate our business, but to grow in future and to continue delivering a modern and innovative approach to dentistry.”


Price inflation
Mr O'Neil said dental prices were unlikely to change too much with the entry of Oasis into the Irish market but its arrival would help prevent "price inflation".

Prior to its sale, Smiles Dental was majority-owned by Mr O'Neil and Mr Bradley. Its other shareholders include Michael McElligott of Mere Capital, and health sector investor David Raethorne, who also owns a stake in Helix Health. Janus Capital, a US private equity firm, is also a shareholder.

Mr O’Neil is the nephew of Denis O’Brien. The telecoms entrepreneur is not a shareholder in Smiles. Mr O’Neil said of Mr O’Brien: “Denis has given me great business advice and he has been very supportive. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

Oasis chief Justin Ash said: “This is a transformational deal for Oasis and demonstrates our ability to drive growth and consolidation, building the only national brand in the fragmented dental market.”