How To Get Ahead in Dentistry

Tip 1 From: James McKee

James qualified in 2010 from Queens University Belfast, with distinction in practice of dentistry. He gained a diploma of membership of the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 2012.

James’ Tip – Specialist?:

I detect a sense of urgency when talking to many new graduates, looking well beyond their first DFT year and asking ‘which specialist pathway should I take.’ I often wonder if this is a decision based on perceived necessity, rather than passion for a particular clinical domain.

It’s certainly a mindset I can identify with, as a young dentist at one point or another I had an interest in pretty much all of the specialties, the problem was that this changed weekly.

However, as time went on in general practice I started to see my patients in practice returning at six monthly intervals and they seemed fairly pleased to see me…most of the time! Building relationships and earning my patient’s trust and loyalty made me realise that general practice is where I belong. As a GDP you learn to prosper in a variety of environments, you can use your extensive array of knowledge and skills to ourish and it’s this diversity that will make you an extremely valuable professional.

When you are looking at what may differentiate yourself from others, ask yourself what you are good at and what motivates you. It may be your ability to communicate and empathise with your patients while having the skills to offer a range of treatments.

Tip 2 From: Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis grew up in the south Wales valleys and qualified from Cardiff Dental School in 2011 with a Bds(Hons). He enjoyed private practice as an associate around Cardiff for three years, being able to hone his restorative, implant and orthodontic skills.

Craig’s Tip – Personal Health:

The world of teeth can be a challenging place both mentally and physically. Keep fit and healthy. Sounds obvious but honestly – get to the gym, get outside, get active, play your sports, get on your bike or go to the beach with your dog. Whatever you do, just do something. Personally, I love to lift weights and zone out with my headphones in before work.

I’m an early bird and doing this sets me up for the day. Posture, leading on from your mental health, physically dentistry is extremely demanding, your neck, shoulders and back can take a lot of strain.

Don’t just sit down, stand up for some checkups, move around. Go collect your patients yourself and have a stretch. There are some great books available on posture – how to sit, how to stand and certain positions to avoid. Don’t lean over or bend your neck and have your elbows out wildly, it’ll kill your back and your career.

Tip 3 From: Alyson Lampard

Alyson qualified from Cardiff Dental School in 1990. Over 27 years in the profession she has developed a keen interest creating and maintaining beautiful smiles with careful dentistry.

Alyson’s Tip – Practise, practise, practise:

They call it practising dentistry for a reason. Just like driving, you will only really know when you get in the car on your own. Don’t expect to be good at everything and don’t try things beyond your capabilities and experience.

Things will go wrong – for a myriad of reasons: the numbing injection doesn’t work – making you run late, impression is rubbish and you have to do it again, you miss the apex of the tooth with the file in, it breaks when you put the forceps on it, the dentures occlusion is nothing like it was at the try in, the core breaks when you take the temporary crown off etc. This is all part of the lifetime of learning ahead of you.

Don’t underestimate what a hard job it is. You are generally dealing with patients who have negative emotions and you are clock watching – two of the most stressful elements of work.

Allow enough time to do the job well. This means you are less likely to have the patient coming back in pain/for adjustments to the bite or dissatisfied with something.


Tip 4 From: Shi Karim

Shi Karim is the clinical director at Church Road Dental and Cosmetics. He qualified at the University of Liverpool in 2003 and since qualifying has attended many post-graduate courses worldwide to further his knowledge in the dental field.

Shi’s Tip – Loupes:

Use magnification and illumination. Start using loupes and a light source ASAP, as a student if possible. It was one of the biggest game changers for me in dentistry, I see things with loupes that I know I wouldn’t without. They make your work easier and your results better. Why wouldn’t you use them?


Tip 5 From: David Fawcett

David graduated with honours from Queen’s University, Belfast in 2010. Since graduating he has attended many courses to keep up to date with all the advances in modern dentistry.

David’s Tip – Lab relationships:

I think one of the most important things for developing your skills is to maintain good working relationships with good lab technicians and peers.

I’ve changed my laboratories over the years based on recommendations from dentists whom I respect. Through that I have found technicians who are on the same wavelength as me and that’s what it’s about – good communication.


Tip 6 From: Steve Lomas

Steve qualified from the University of Birmingham in 1992. He remained in the west Midlands for the next five years before moving to Crewe. Steve opened The Old Surgery Dental Practice in February 1998 and has developed it from a single-handed practice to its current six surgeries.

Steve’s Tip – Learn to listen and communicate:

Talk to your patient, say ‘hello, what would you like from me?’ Most patients have never been asked, they just get in the chair and are told what they need. It opens the door to discuss all the possibilities outside of UDAs.

I’ve seen really skillful young dentists receive complaint after complaint because of poor communication skills or attitude and on the flip side, others who are described by their own defence union as a danger to the public be liked by their patients because their personality masked clinical weaknesses.

Listen to how other colleagues communicate and take the best bits, become a composite of all the good techniques. None of us are perfect or the best, we should just strive to improve day on day, year on year.


Tip 7 From: James Morgan

Since graduating from Dublin in 2006, James has worked in private practice, staying up to date with contemporary dental theory through reading journals and attending hands on courses.

James’ Tip – Income protection:

My practical advice to any new graduate would be to get income protection insurance ASAP when you are likely to be healthy. I know a few people who have developed an illness a couple of years into practice without it resulting in unpaid leave from work, and companies won’t cover you for that particular ailment in the future.


Tip 8 From: John Hatfield

John qualified from Guys Hospital in 1991 and purchased his practice in 2001. John has been placing and restoring dental implants since 2004.

John’s Tip – Camera:

Get a digital SLR camera and learn how to take great photographs. Start taking pictures of all your work especially anterior work and orthodontics. Devote time to reviewing the photos and you will see immediately changes that you wish you had made. It makes you appraise your own work a lot more critically because the camera doesn’t lie.

Good photographs are also a fantastic communication tool between other dentists and technicians.

Documenting your work will help you build up a portfolio of before and after pictures so you can showcase your work to other potential patients.

Tip 9 From: Helen Rimmer

Helen graduated from Cardiff in 2006. After several years working for the NHS she joined forces with her husband and they set up their own private cosmetic medicine and dental practice in Cardiff Bay in 2012.

Helen’s Tip – Business:

Get a good accountant, especially if you want to buy a practice, take your time and make sure the figures add up before you commit.

You are now self-employed. The buck stops with you. It’s not just about dentistry it’s also business. Learn the system. Learn the dos and don’ts. If you work in the NHS make a list of your daily UDAs and check them against your summary at the end of the month. You’ll be amazed at how many disappear into the abyss. Check what is rejected, find out why. Don’t expect anyone else to do it, you’re not in school anymore.

If you are female grow a thick skin. You will be on the receiving end of sexist comments for the whole of your career from patients, employers, staff and colleagues. It’s not right but you won’t be able to change it so you have to rise above it. Of course it’s a great career in which to be your own boss, so at least that’s a glass ceiling you don’t have to break.

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