We’re on the march with Abhi’s Army

News Published: 
24 June 2021

FGDP(UK) Dean, Ian Mills, reflects on this historic time for primary care dentistry, as the Faculty prepares for the imminent transfer to the new College of General Dentistry, and looks back on his tenure as the tenth Dean of FGDP.


As I sit here writing my final blog, Scotland have just lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic, Boris Johnson has announced there will be a delay in relaxing COVID restrictions and one of our fantastic receptionists has just resigned, having been offered a less stressful job in an office. On the plus side, the sun is shining, I’m not at work and I’ve only got 10 days left as Dean of FGDP(UK)! Not that I am counting the days…….

It has been a great honour to have represented FGDP(UK) as their 10th Dean and I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside some inspirational colleagues during an unprecedented time in the Faculty’s history. It was always going to be a “tough gig” as we prepared to separate from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, but I hadn’t quite bargained on a pandemic to boot. It is a great credit to the staff team at FGDP(UK) and all the Board members, Divisional representatives, tutors and examiners, that they have managed to keep the show on the road through an extremely difficult and challenging time. I really cannot thank them enough for their unconditional support, encouragement and hard work over the last three years.

The move to an independent college for dentistry will finally realise the long-held ambition of those who founded the Faculty of General Dental Practitioners (UK) in the early 90s. It was their incredible foresight, hard work and commitment to general dental practice which allowed them to establish FGDP(UK) in the first place, driven by the vision that one day dentistry would have a Royal College. We are not at the stage of applying for a Royal Charter just yet, but the move to an independent College of General Dentistry on 1st July is a historic one and takes us a giant step closer to our ambition. 

Once again, we are indebted to a group of hard-working, dedicated visionaries who are committed to establishing a college which upholds all the values of the Faculty, but delivers contemporary support, guidance and services, so desperately needed by our profession at the present time. And perhaps most importantly, the new College embraces the whole dental team recognising the invaluable contribution made by every member of the dental profession in delivering high quality oral health care for our patients and the wider community. 

As I reflect on my own experience and relationship with the Faculty, I can genuinely state that the organisation, or more specifically the Members and Fellows, have had a profound influence on my career and my attitude towards dentistry. I have been extremely fortunate to have met so many inspirational colleagues within the Faculty who have shown me the benefits of education and life long learning; the value of self-reflection and the importance of collaboration, cooperation and teamwork.  

A career in dentistry can be tough, and this is especially true at the present time as we face an increasingly challenging environment in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Toiling in hostile working conditions with restrictive PPE, in a dysfunctional dental health service, with increasing patient frustration and a stressed and demotivated workforce, perhaps give some indication of the reasons behind the issues of recruitment and retention in the profession. 

Despite the many challenges facing the dental profession, I remain optimistic. This is not simply blind optimism, but a belief that oral health has become an increasingly important aspect of health and well-being for many of the population. Demand, and need, massively outstrip capacity at the present time, and this is not simply as a result of COVID-19. My practice, along with many others, have never been busier, and although this is good news for our businesses, it is incredibly stressful for our staff and difficult for the many patients who need our services. The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly reinforced the importance of oral health, and we must hope that the Government and those who commission NHS Dental Services will place as high a priority on NHS dentistry as our patients do. Sadly, that is possibly misguided optimism! 

The other reason I feel positive about the future of dentistry, is because of the remarkable pool of talent which exists within our profession. Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to meet many inspirational colleagues who are passionate about dentistry and always willing to support and encourage others to improve and fulfil their potential. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of colleagues have stepped up to the mark, and acted selflessly to support their colleagues, their staff and their patients. We have seen this within our own Faculty where Members and Fellows have gone out of their way to help each other and support the profession in our time of need. Many of these colleagues have been “household names” in dentistry, but others have been new faces who have brought a freshness, an enthusiasm and a determination which has been greatly appreciated. 

This has been particularly noticeable within the FGDP(UK) Board, where I have been surrounded by inspirational colleagues, many of whom might be described as “young dentists”. The more cynical amongst you, may simply attribute this to my own advancing years, but it is actually a reflection of the talent and diversity we have within our board. That diversity includes protected characteristics, but also encompasses background, age, attitude and perspective, which we don’t always acknowledge as of great value within a boardroom.

As older dentists, we are often quick to judge and swift to criticise new graduates. We complain that they don’t have the same skills, work ethic or resilience we had at that stage of our career. We lament the lack of clinical experience and their apparent inability to extract teeth, complete molar endo or construct complete dentures. “I don’t know what the dental schools are doing, but it wasn’t like that in our day”, is a frequent refrain. 

A lack of clinical experience in certain areas may be well founded in some cases, but in my opinion, any shortcomings are often amply compensated by a variety of other skills and attributes which are not always appreciated. I am frequently astounded by the level of knowledge and understanding of young graduates, not to mention their insatiable ambition and desire to improve their skills and experience, in a desperate bid to advance their career. 

For me, attitude is everything…… well almost everything. If you have the right attitude towards learning and self-improvement, you will be in a good position to address any clinical or professional shortcomings throughout your career. What you do need is a supportive network, good role models and access to mentorship. We clearly need this throughout our career, but at the present time I believe this to be absolutely critical for our younger colleagues. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge within our Faculty, and our Divisions, and we must utilise this resource to support each other, and mentor young colleagues. At the same time, we need to learn from our young colleagues and ensure that their views and concerns are heard, acknowledged and addressed within our various organisations. 

Over the years, the Faculty has been partially successful in establishing a career pathway for general dental practitioners, however, plans within the new College are much more ambitious and most importantly, will be relevant to the whole dental team. This will be one of the key workstreams for CGDent in the months and years ahead, and I believe it will prove critical to the future success of the dental profession. 

When I first addressed the FGDP(UK) Board as Dean in June 2018, I referred to a book ‘Legacy’ by James Kerr, on leadership and management based on the All Blacks. The author refers to the responsibility of an All-Black and how they are tasked with the duty of “leaving the jersey in a better place” before handing it on to the next All-Black. I am afraid the jersey I am handing on to my successor, Abhi Pal, is a little tattered, torn and bloodied, and sadly looking a bit worse for wear … a bit like its current owner. However, I am incredibly proud to have worn the ‘FGDP(UK) jersey’ and I have no doubt the College of General Dentistry will build on the legacy of FGDP(UK) under the guidance of Abhi and his team. I am confident that as each year passes, the new College will be in a better place, and so will dentistry. 

Unfortunately, I am slightly less optimistic about the prospects for the Scotland Football Team at Euro 2020 as they prepare to meet England at Wembley. But dreams can come true, they once told us we would never have an independent College for dentistry - “We’re on the march with Abhi’s army”.


Read more posts at www.fgdp.org.uk/deans-blog.