Manchester during the 1990s, through its groundbreaking cultural, music and sporting achievements, was the place where it was all happening, the UK’s new capital of cool. So how, you might ask, growing up surrounded by Oasis, Manchester United and the Hacienda, does a teenage boy decide to become a dentist?
The answer is quite simple. Throughout my school days, I had blindly followed the path laid before me by my older brother. But when it came to choosing what to study at university, his choice of medical school seemed far too serious to sheepishly follow. I felt no calling at all to become a doctor.
Having sought some advice from school, and using Manchester Grammar’s brand-new computerised career questionnaire, dentistry was presented as a possible option (the only other one I remember being offered was garden landscaping). Having given it some thought, a career combining my desire to help people with science and the opportunity to develop a technical craft was very appealing.
I travelled over the Pennines to the Leeds Dental Institute, where I completed my undergraduate training. It was during these early days at dental school that I first developed an interest in endodontics. While my peers were getting excited about veneers and braces, I would look forward to the challenges of locating tiny hidden channels sitting inside the roots of teeth (please don’t judge).
After qualifying, I moved into a busy general practice in Hertfordshire where I gained lots of useful experience in a wide range of procedures. But it was still root canal treatments that I enjoyed the most. I wanted to improve my knowledge and skills, so I completed the nascent Eastman Postgraduate Certificate in Endodontics. This taster course opened my mind to a totally different way of thinking about endodontics, focusing on biological principles rather than just the technical aspects of the treatment. With my interest now intensified, I began to dream of specialisation, of doing root canals all day long and being really great at it.
At the time, the only recognised specialisation pathway involved three years of full-time study, and three years without income. By this point in my life, I was happily married with a young daughter and another baby on the way. The reality of my familial responsibilities meant returning to university for three years was out of the question. The Eastman was still offering the one-year master’s in Endodontics, a highly regarded programme and a qualification that many of the existing endodontic specialists were able to use to enter the specialist lists before the rules were changed. Not wanting to give up on my dream of becoming an endodontist, I decided to take a chance. I saved up a year’s salary, applied to the Eastman and was accepted onto the master’s. I took up the place in the hope that as well as making me a better dentist, it may present an opportunity to achieve my aspiration of becoming an endodontic specialist.
The master’s programme was all I had hoped it would be and much more. At Eastman, I was surrounded by teachers and peers who shared my passion for endodontics, and I was able to immerse myself in an environment where every detail of endodontics was pored over, discussed and dissected. Over the year, I was able to develop and grow as a clinician, graduating with distinction and winning the Dentsply Maillefer Endodontic Prize for the highest clinical and academic achievement.
On completion of the master’s, I limited my practice to endodontics and became a visiting clinician, travelling to several clinics in and around London and Hertfordshire. It was a slightly peculiar nomadic existence, with each day of the week spent at a different practice carrying out complex treatments that other dentists were not able to do. I saw a lot of practices and worked with many great clinicians. During this time, I was invited back to the Eastman to take up a role as a speciality doctor. To my delight, this position presented me with the opportunity I had been hoping for. The role allowed me to accrue the remaining necessary training hours to become eligible for specialist recognition. After six years of hard slog, I successfully sat the specialist examinations and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a specialist in endodontics.
Achieving the goal I had been working towards for so many years was deeply gratifying, but not wanting to rest on my laurels – and in the spirit of The West Wing’s President Jeb Bartlett – I thought to myself: “What’s next?”. And so, to the Academy of Advanced Endodontics.
I first encountered Richard after I qualified as a dentist and moved to London. I went to his home to chat with him about my idea of becoming an endodontist. Despite him telling me what a terrible idea it was, I persevered. After completing my master’s, Richard offered me an associate position at the Academy. To be able to work in one of the top endodontic practices in the UK was a fantastic opportunity, and who could ask for a better mentor than Richard? When I took my wife out on our first date, I immediately knew I wanted to marry her. From my first day at the Academy, I immediately knew it was the place where I wanted to spend my career. With access to the latest and best equipment and materials, I felt like an overexcited child at some amazing endodontic theme park (and it still feels that way). I had found in Richard, a clinician who shares my passion for remaining at the cutting edge, always striving to improve and provide the best treatment and experience for patients. He was very generous in his mentorship of me and I enjoyed his Larry Davidesque sense of humour.
Having worked as an associate for several years, and after a fair bit of nagging on my part, Richard offered me a partnership in the Academy which I gladly accepted. Finally, I had a practice to call my own – and what a practice and home to have. Since then, we have worked together towards our goal of making the Academy of Advanced Endodontics the go-to place for outstanding root canal treatment and unique endodontic educational opportunities for other dentists willing to learn our philosophy of excellent patient care using cutting-edge technology. In conjunction with the Academy, I continue to work one day a week at the Eastman, where I provide clinical supervision and teaching for the endodontic postgraduates.
So, after 20 years of being a dentist with 12 of these years practicing endodontics alone, what have I learnt? Just like at dental school, I still look forward to searching out those tiny channels in the teeth, I am just a lot better at it and have phenomenally more powerful tools at my disposal to do the job. Whilst the Gallagher brothers have long since lost it, Manchester United are now sadly awful and I believe the Hacienda has been turned into a car park, endodontics remains cool – and in my opinion will do so forever.