A new vision of the future

Gordon Matthew was heartbroken when told he could no longer practice as a dentist because of his impaired sight. determined that 33 years of dental experience should not go to waste, he chose to reinvent his career

13 June, 2018 / indepth
 Tim Power    Richard Campbell

After spending 18 years building up a thriving practice in Paisley, Gordon Matthew’s professional life was thrown into turmoil when an eye operation went wrong and threatened his career as a dentist.

It was 2014 when Gordon first experienced discomfort in his left eye and an examination identified a detached retina. The initial eye operation went well and it was healing, but unfortunately, it tore again and over the next two years he required five further operations on his eye.

He said: “What should have been a fairly simple operation just became more serious as I had further complications. While I was able to work between operations, after the sixth bout of surgery my consultant said it was time to stop. Further intervention could have resulted in irrecoverable damage and ultimately loss of sight in that eye.”

“Denture work is like starting with a blank canvas; I love the fact that I can create a smile for someone to look like either Ken Dodd or George Clooney”

Gordon Matthew

Gordon still had some vision in his left eye but his perception of depth and shape was hampered, so this limited his ability to carry out intricate dentistry.

He said: “At first I was very angry that this had happened to me and had wrecked my career, but, as a famous person once said, you should not worry about things you have no control over and should instead focus on what you can actually do.”

Gordon qualified from the University of Glasgow in 1985 and started up his first practice in Paisley’s Neilston Road in 1995 with one chair and one technician. As the practice grew he expanded, and in 2002 bought another practice in the same road. However, the logistics of running two separate clinics was problematic so Gordon looked for an opportunity to bring both practices, which now employed five dentists and two technicians, under one roof. He achieved this when he moved further south on Neilston Road to take over an old car showroom, which provided plenty of room for growth.

Gordon said he took great pride in building up his successful practice but he could also see the benefits of going into partnership with Brite Dental in 2013 to allow him to focus on his patients rather than on running the business as well. And Brite Dental was funding a significant investment in the dental practice to create eight fully digital treatment suites. So, all was good in Gordon’s professional life… until he felt that twinge in his left eye.

After the sixth and final operation, Gordon had to take a pragmatic approach to his situation. While he could no longer undertake intricate dentistry techniques he had meetings with the local health board and his insurers, which approved him to undertake routine dental work with his patients, such as check-ups, simple orthodontic work and dentures

“They understood my capabilities, what I could and could not do, and it was good to work with the team again who had helped to hold the fort while I was recovering. And I was particularly enjoying working with the young VT dentists that were training at our practice.”

The refurbished dental practice opened in August 2016, but while Gordon was getting back into his stride, nine days after the opening he was called to a meeting with the health board in 2016, the outcome of which stopped him in his tracks. It was decided that he was no longer permitted to undertake basic check-ups because he was unable to identify the presence of potential oral cancer.

This was heartbreaking for Gordon but he could see the health board’s point. He said: He said: “As I only have a two-dimensional vision I would not be able to detect the bumps or swellings that could indicate mouth cancer. The health board argued that I could miss something important during a check-up, and I had no answer for them.”

In November 2016, and with a heavy heart, he had to walk away from the practice he had built up over 18 years and take early retirement at 55, on the grounds of ill health.

However, Gordon was not prepared to let his 33 years of dental experience go to waste, and during 2017 he spent long hours at his Paisley home looking at opportunities to revive his career… he was not ready for retirement just yet.

If you need an example of Gordon’s conviction and passion, and his ability to go against the odds, you only have to go back to 2005 when an incident annoyed him so much he decided to stand for Parliament to represent Paisley and Renfrewshire South in the UK General Election. He explained: “I was walking past the fire station on Gordon Street one day and I came across a pile of cigarettes and ash that had been thoughtlessly dumped by someone emptying their car ashtray on the street. I was so incensed at this despicable act, that someone should have such little regard for the fire service and for our city, that I decided to campaign under my own political party, Pride in Paisley.”

When the votes were counted Gordon’s party came in a credible sixth out of eight contenders with 380 votes, representing one percent of the vote; Labour’s Douglas Alexander romped home with 19,904 votes.

But Gordon had made his point, and he also retained his sense of humour, saying that perhaps he could have picked a better name for his party, as the word ‘Pride’ may have been misunderstood by some voters!

It was this resilient spirit that Gordon drew on to plan his next career move and he thought back to the early days of his first practice in Neilston Road. He said: “It was just myself and my technician, and I remembered the way we worked together to craft beautifully made dentures for our patients. I realised that this was an area in which I have great expertise and it’s not a practice that could be affected by my impaired vision.”

In 2018, Gordon has launched himself as a dentist willing to visit practices for the provision of dental services. His role is to attend the dental practice and take the impressions from the patient and then liaise with the technicians on developing the length, shape, colour and position of the teeth in the denture that suits the patient’s requirements.

He said: “I’ve got 33 years of experience in restorative dentistry and the provision of dentures, so my focus for every denture patient is on quality, personal service and achieving the highest standards to create the best possible fit and appearance for them. I aim to make the whole process as quick and easy as possible for dentists and their patients.”

He’s already working with local dental practices in Glasgow and is keen to develop his service across the Central Belt, particularly as he foresees a growing need to help elderly people in care homes that need this type of dental service.

He said: “Denture work is like starting with a blank canvas; I love the fact that I can help create a smile for someone to look like either Ken Dodd or George Clooney… but I’m sure most people would prefer George’s smile!”

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Tags: Dentist / Eye surgery / Glasgow University / Gordon Matthew / Neilston Road / Paisley / Vision

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