Obituary: Alexander Barr Littlejohn

14 April 1941 – 1 February 2021

09 April, 2021 / indepth

In February our industry saw the loss of a truly inspirational and innovative leader. Alex Littlejohn pushed the boundaries of technics and technology for more than 60 years with Dental Technology Services, one of Europe’s leading dental laboratories.

Alex served a good part of his apprenticeship by working in the school holidays by the time he was 16 and progressed into working in his father’s small lab, as the other alternative was to become a music teacher. Although he joined the business, he continued to study music and gained a teaching diploma from the London School of Music. Incidentally, he was signed by Lloyd Webber (Andrew’s father) who was the principal of the London School when he graduated. During this period, he had also obtained final City and Guilds and 4 Advanced certificates but had already decided that teaching children music was not for him. 

When he joined the laboratory, the business comprised his father, one technician and an apprentice. Alex expanded the business gradually until his father retired in 1969. He joined the Dental Laboratories Association (DLA), where he served on the council for 20 years and was Vice Chairman, Chairman and Past Chairman and was instrumental in moving the DLA to an association that represented the technicians. 

Maybe his entrepreneurial spirit came from his father as, in the early days, maintaining work levels was difficult so they bought a small confectionery business, and he filled the downtime of the laboratory by making snowballs, nougat wafers and cream shells to be sold at the weekend to the local shops; so, creating future decay to repair.  

Alex studied endlessly throughout his career, always striving to be the most knowledgeable in the room, always on the hunt for innovation. To expand the company, he needed to be aware of any new techniques that were coming on to the market in dentistry. To this end he travelled the world, building a network of knowledge and connections that allowed many first to be introduced to DTS customers. When metal ceramic restorations came on the market in the seventies, the laboratory was one of the first in the UK to offer these restorations to customers 

In 1984, Alex, along with Malcolm Gill from Yorkshire, discovered porcelain veneers in America and subsequently introduced them to the UK market, then created a consortium of UK labs (TEREC) to allow veneers to become a standard of dentistry today. With the success of the UK group, he founded a sister group in North America allowing close collaboration and laying the foundation of a global business network.

This was the start of adhesive dentistry and through his tireless energy and hundreds of educational courses, single-handily taught hundreds of dentists new ways of working that seem normal today. Mirage ceramic inlays, Resinbond crowns, Belleglass, Empress and Procera restorations all introduced first by Alex and DTS in the UK. Alex was also integral in bringing the Dundee Replica denture technique to the market, now known globally, along with Equipoise and Saddlelock chrome designs.

In 2004, Alex took another major step forward, installing the first Zirconia Milling Centre. A material never heard of in the UK and now the foundation of all modern crown and bridges. This sowed the seeds of digital dentistry before anyone else, and through his global network of dental partners and friends, founded and developed the Core3dcentres business as the largest independent digital dental manufacturer in the world. 

Alex believed education and friendship were the key to a successful and fulfilling life, and to any good business. He hosted hundreds of lectures and courses all over Europe and America, however he never forgot that all business and no pleasure didn’t provide loyalty. DTS hosted many amazing, golfing, shooting and even tank driving events that created lifetime friendships. All precision planned to the minute by Alex. For those that knew Alex, they knew that he had two passions in life, dentistry and golf. He always tried to combine them as much as possible.

He never truly retired from the lab, but he started to dedicate more time to his second home Loch Lomond Golf Club. When Loch Lomond hosted the Scottish Open, he was first to be involved as Chief Marshall, which started his next calling as Chief Marshal in 27 major golf tournaments throughout the UK. His organisational skills and ability to quieten a crowd were legendary. 

There are very a few people in our industry that have so significantly shaped and changed UK dentistry as much as Alex Littlejohn. A true visionary of his time and sadly missed by many. 

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