Improving your dentistry
1. Tell us about yourself and your dental history
I qualified from Newcastle University in 1992, and at the time wanted to be a maxillofacial surgeon. The face is such an important area of the body that it commands a lot of attention in social and public life, and I knew that being able to influence that would be a tremendous gift. The problem, I learned later, was that a surgical life would mean I would lose my successes like a driving instructor loses his pupils when they are just competent instead of great drivers, and I wanted to keep close to and grow with my successes. It was very common that dental patients would see the same general dentist for 20 years or more, and that was the environment that I wanted to nurture my professional relationships.
I did my vocational training in a fairly typical large dental practice of the time, which also had a small branch practice on the other side of town. Actually, it was a great practice that had experienced dentists and staff who could see and work from the patients point of view. It took me about three years to persuade them to increase the fee for a failed appointment from £2 to £3. Such were the fees at the beginning of my career! I liked the working relationships with all the staff and the other senior dentists made great mentors, but when it came to patients – I had a better understanding of every patient in the smaller environment of the branch practice. I preferred the smaller practice.
I was contacted in 1999 for an opportunity to buy a small dental practice from a dentist who was about to retire, and it was only after six years of ‘settling in as an associate’ that the owner let me know he would not sell. It was already a difficult time as the fee-per-item days of NHS dentistry were coming to an end, and dental care in England was getting a lot of bad publicity due to the impending changes to the Health and Social Care Act.
I had kept and nurtured my successes as I had set out, and was proud of my work ethic. But I wasn’t having that warm feeling I had imagined success would bring. In 2005 I decided success in my life lay elsewhere, and I would leave dentistry behind.
I was always a bit of an academic at heart, both at school and even as a young adult. Some people can run long distances without tiring, but I wasn’t one of them. I like knowing. I don’t get tired of learning. I have come across people who think knowledge can fill your mind, but it’s quite the opposite. For me, learning helps make my thoughts clearer. I completed a business degree, and started as an undergraduate law student shortly after qualifying as a dentist. Having three degrees has a sort of nice feel to it. I didn’t finish law. Somehow, I wasn’t prepared for the complete change in priorities that my young family brought me. I think I came back to my senses.
It was no surprise for the people that knew me that I would eventually open a squat practice, and run it in an unusual way. I bought a bungalow and decided to use the land to build a modern engineered steel framed building, covered in bricks and made to look like a traditional Georgian-style detached house. It took a lot of thought for the design; I wanted to use the golden proportions for all the dimensions, not just for the ceilings and windows, but also the floor areas. The patient journey would be pre-planned as each step the patient would take would be a deliberate process on our part. It occurred to us as we were running the practice that our patient journey, that we thought underpinned what we did, was just an invisible plan, a plan designed to give the patient an emotional experience using the physical structure of the building for the emotional orientation, and also the orientation of our processes to help the patient understand our efforts.
Opening Magicsmiles was a big adventure for me. You could say a professional mid-life correction. I had three mortgages when Magicsmiles was about to open its doors in late 2008, when I got a phone call from my brother-in-law upset that his boss had come to work that morning in his chauffeur driven Rolls Royce instead of landing on the private helipad on the roof. This meant bad news was coming as he and his investment banking colleagues all got fired a few hours later. He worked for the Bank of America in Canary Wharf, and a new recession had begun. If you want to live with the rainbow, you have to deal with the rain.
2. Why did you choose The Dawson Academy?
I first saw Ian Buckle at an FMC Seminar in London describing functions and aesthetics, and was won over by his expression that a functionally stable and harmonious dentition was usually the most beautiful. I was so surprised as I had somehow felt this not just in dentistry but in almost everything. There is a reason why when a person looks fit and healthy they also look beautiful. There is a reason why a powerful car gets admiring looks. When we designed the Magicsmiles building, I just copied what was functionally strong and visually balanced. It just seemed like a winning formula. The message I took home after Ian’s seminar that day was that beauty and harmony are more often than not found in the same place. FMC host really great seminars but Ian Buckle’s seminar that day not only inspired me, but left me knowing there was value in making our dentistry better, and there really is a better version of dentistry than what I had become accustomed to.
As dentists, if we can keep things from deteriorating for a patient, we have given them a huge gift in their life. Stability is key to everything we do as dentists. Ian’s presentation that day was exceptional and I really felt that what he said was coming from a really caring position. In my own training, the stability I was taught was due to bacterial effects of plaque, and the occlusal stability was only an issue for the restorations we placed as dentists, and like many before me, my restorations tended to be finished slightly out of the bite to avoid overloading them.
I have attended Ian’s short courses and have been looking forward to the core curriculum because I knew I would change my dentistry significantly. When I was a younger dentist, I once saw a TV programme in which a dentist said you know your dentistry means something when someone comes to see you, and they have had to catch a plane to do so!
I think of all the teachers of dentistry in this country, The Dawson Academy has the highest proportion of people who have come on a plane to attend a course in the UK.
3. What did you find most valuable about the course?
The stability I was taught at dental school was to protect against the bacterial effects of plaque, and the occlusal stability was really an issue for the restorations we placed as dentists. However, the Dawson curriculum teaches that there are signs of instability beyond the caries and periodontal effects of bacterial plaque. Worn teeth, chipped teeth, unexpected mobility, unresponsive sensitivity etc. Once we can recognise early instability, isn’t it better to have a few small composites than a full mouth rehabilitation for a badly broken down dentition later on?
The Dawson Academy helps us have more understanding of those patients who have signs of instability. A more complete set of examination records means that we can work on the patient’s case even when they are not there. I have found planning with the end in mind is a good plan to start a new patient dental experience.
Whenever you meet Ian, you have the clear impression that Ian is teaching his own values. He impresses upon you a philosophy of caring. And I am sure these are the very same values that first brought many of us into dentistry in the first place. It’s almost like we are resonating with his ripple effect. The Dawson Academy core curriculum takes you through a step by step process that is straightforward as well as skilled. For me though, what is most valuable is the solidness in the dentistry The Dawson Academy teaches. The most important stage is the stage that you are currently working on, and this sets the basis for the next step in the planning and treatment process. Before now, I think I lacked the personal confidence needed in taking that extra step to inform the patient of a complete treatment plan based on longer term goals that support stability and harmony in the dentistry offered. As I have talked to patients since attending the core curriculum, planning the complete case seems very natural to the patient whose teeth are showing signs of instability. I have heard Ian say: ‘The secret of success is to be thorough in what we do.’ Isn’t that the very reason why our patient chose our dentistry over a competitor’s?
4. How has your practice benefitted from your Dawson Academy experience?
Helping patients regain a healthy mouth and an amazing smile then supporting the motivation needed to keep it that way is the best reward. We called our practice Magicsmiles, and though it may sound cheesy, what we really try hard to do is uncover the magic that is already there. I like to think that my version of magic smiles can be better described as the ‘harmony’ that The Dawson Academy teaches.
Magicsmiles as a practice has benefitted from The Dawson Academy experience because it has given me the confidence to treatment plan the patient and not just restore the carious or broken teeth. The use of detailed records makes it easier to explain to a patient what we are seeing in their mouth, and basing their treatment options and tools on dealing with our findings. Co-discovery with the patient has become significantly easier after taking the first module of the core curriculum of examination and records.
5. Describe how you have personally benefitted from taking The Dawson Academy core curriculum?
Taking the core curriculum courses has boosted my personal confidence in dealing with some of the cases that were difficult to discuss. Discussing a complex problem with a patient has been made much easier with the checklist record taking and treatment planning.
The area of my dentistry that seems to have altered most dramatically has happened after taking the equilibration module. It’s not just when I set up study models, but every time I lay a composite restoration, fit a crown (though I find you can easily make crown adjustments at the design stage on the Omnicam), I seem to be able to see more than before.
6. Would you recommend The Dawson Academy and what advice would you give anyone who is considering taking any Dawson Academy courses?
When it comes to people – like attracts like. The Dawson Academy is a people place. Ian and Sally-Ann attract other amazing people in their work. If you’re considering taking The Dawson Academy courses, it will be because the part of you that’s an amazing dentist wants to be even better. Ian is a true mentor who can help you take care of ordinary people in an extra-ordinary way. How can you differentiate yourself when so many practices are saying the same thing? Judge The Dawson Academy for yourself, I would highly recommend them.