Leading the way

In almost five decades of practice, BDA fellow Mike Arthur has seen significant changes in the profession – many of which he has helped shape

13 June, 2018 / indepth
 Tim Power    Scott Richmond

In addition to running his Wishaw dental practice for the past 46 years, Mike Arthur has also been representing his fellow dentists over this period through his tireless work with the BDA in Scotland, a role for which he was awarded a BDA Fellowship in 2012 to recognise his outstanding service to the profession.

Brought up in Birmingham in a medical family, Mike joked that he and his three brothers decided to become dentists as they did not fancy their father’s GP lifestyle, where he was on 24-hour call every day.

However, after graduation, he was thrown in at the deep end, as he explained: “I graduated on a Saturday and on the Monday I was at the practice in Airdrie at 9am for a GA session. In those days, there was no gentle easing in with vocational training – we just got stuck in straight away. On that very first day I volunteered to do the GA session myself and by 10.30am I had extracted about three dozen teeth, thereby more than doubling my lifetime’s experience of oral surgery. In my student days I had extracted about 20 teeth.”

“Working with these young dentists has really helped me keep abreast of developments in dentistry”

Mike Arthur

Two years later, he had bought the Main Street practice in Wishaw where he would practice for the next four decades and more, as well as providing a dental service to Longriggend Prison for 17 years.

“Of course, there has been a wholesale culture change in dentistry since those early days where the focus is now on preserving teeth,” reflected Mike.

“When I started out, I still heard of stories – up until the 1970s – that some parents gave their daughters a wedding present of removing their teeth and replacing them with dentures so they would have a beautiful smile on their wedding day.

“It has been very satisfying to be part of that process of moving away from extracting teeth and encouraging people to look after their teeth.”

In 1991, Mike was appointed a vocational trainer and he said he has always found the experience very rewarding.

“Working with these young dentists has really helped me keep abreast of developments in dentistry and also honed my own practice.

“When they work with me as a chairside assistant, they are always asking me searching questions about why I do certain things, or telling me about new procedures.

“And when I am assisting them as they undertake dental procedures themselves, it really helps me appreciate the skills and dedication of our own chairside assistants who help me and our two other dentists day-in, day-out.”

When Mike started up his practice, it consisted of only himself and a technician without the support of a chairside assistant. This is when he got interested in the BDA and started attending the monthly meeting of the Lanarkshire Section, held in Bothwell.

He explained: “Dentistry can be a very isolated career. You go into your surgery in the morning, you work hard all day, and you don’t speak to any other dentist. And your worries just pile up.

“Attending the BDA meetings helped me not only learn about new developments in dentistry, but also gave me the opportunity to talk with fellow dentists about issues and to get advice from them. It always gave you a different angle on your issues and I enjoyed the social side with my fellow dentists.

“Someone suggested I go along to the AGM of the Lanarkshire Local Dental Committee and, in those days, if you turned up, you ended up getting elected! That’s how I started my political career in the dental profession.

“This was in the 1970s and the main topic of discussion was the impending major NHS reorganisation in Scotland, which established the Area Health Boards. So I derived some modest satisfaction in the feeling that I was able contribute in a very small way to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to mould the process which had created Lanarkshire Health Board. At least, I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

There were plenty of other opportunities for Mike to put forward the views of the dental profession in the seemingly unending restructures of the NHS, particularly when he became Chair of the BDA’s Scottish Council from 2003-09.

When the provision of 24-hour emergency dental care became mandatory in 1990, Mike and his brother John, who had a practice in Motherwell, created the Mid Lanarkshire Emergency Dental Service to provide cover in the local area.

He said: “It was a bit ironic as we used the same rota system that my father had used in Birmingham to provide 24-hour care for his patients. In the end, we had 70 dentists on our network and the system worked so well that I was invited to advise the NHS about our experiences and offer advice on setting up a similar service for the forthcoming NHS24.”

In 2012, his long dedication to the cause was recognised with a BDA Fellowship – one of only three that year – which are awarded to members who have shown outstanding service to the profession. Mike said: “If I worked long enough, I thought I might get something out of it! No, it was a great surprise and quite an honour.”

Mike believes it’s really important that new dentists get involved with the BDA. He said: “I’m a little disappointed that so few younger members of the profession are involved with the BDA as it brings the profession together to share problems and solutions.

“I would hope that new dentists would understand and appreciate the value of the BDA and the great advice and help it can provide, particularly for those just starting out in the profession.”

While Mike plans to be working part time a little longer, he is concerned about the future direction of the profession.

He explained: “We are at a crossroads in dentistry as there is a lot of discontent, especially with the General Dental Council. I’m beginning to wonder if we really are a profession. All our standards are set now by the GDC, which is composed mostly of lay people who are appointed by the Government and not elected by the profession.”

Mike has always had strong views about the profession and these started well before his graduation, as he submitted an essay while he was a dental student for the centennial prize
for the Royal Odonto-Chirurgical Society of Scotland.

“My essay was entitled ‘A student appraisal of the dental curriculum’, and I won the prize. So you see, even then, I was telling everyone else what to do,” laughed Mike.

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