Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals
Where did you qualify and when? Manchester University 1985
What attracted you to dentistry?
I wanted to be a vet! after 6 weeks in the pouring rain in North Wales on work experience one summer, getting covered in cow poo and watching unwanted puppies being put to sleep, I decided it wasn’t for me! I wanted to do something practical. I’d played the piano competitively in my teens, and wanted to do something ‘with my hands’. Dad was a toolmaker so I had grown up in a household where doing things precisely to the ‘nearest 10th of a thou’ was expected. There were no ‘boys jobs’ in our household so any paint work had to have very clean lines. I enjoyed practical things and painted and made things. I also wanted to do something where I felt like I was contributing something positive to the world in a medical field.
What are your current responsibilities in the profession?
I am the National Lead for dental public health for Public Health England. I lead the team that is responsible for the epidemiological surveys and dental intelligence for England, has the responsibility for water fluoridation and oral health improvement. We also support DHSC, NHS E, the Office of CDO and HEE at a national level. All the Consultants in Dental Public Health in England are in an active network to try and work together to improve oral health and reduce inequalities for the population of England.
Sandra’s dental story
I graduated from Manchester in 1985 and have worked in maxillo- facial units in Manchester, London and Bedford. I loved surgery, but found supporting consultants and patients with the oncology work really challenging and upsetting. I have worked as a GDP in Milton Keynes and as one of the first salaried GDPs ‘safety net’ service in Rugby. Most of my clinical career was spent in special needs CDS services in Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. I treated medically compromised, in-patient learning disability and mental health patients, the homeless, travellers, domiciliary patients and ‘special needs’ children. After gaining a Diploma in Conscious Sedation I specialised in adults with dental anxiety and dental phobias. Following completion of specialist training I became a consultant in Dental Public Health for Buckinghamshire PCTs in 2005, and then for Northamptonshire and Milton Keynes working with commissioning teams to restructure oral surgery services, and set up restorative services. I worked to set up a Choose and book service and connect GDPs onto N3 with clinical triage and referral management service as one of the first in the country. I have been involved in procuring prison, OOH, oral health promotion and GDS services and set up dental appraisal for GDPs. I led the set-up of clinical networks in orthodontics, oral surgery and oral health promotion. I have been a Deputy Director of Public Health, working across Local authority and a Primary Care Trust to lead a team to deliver on a number of generic public health issues. Employed by South Central Strategic Health Authority I was the dental public health lead delivering the feasibility into water fluoridation in Southampton and the consultation. I have played a role in BDA at Branch and Section as representative, Chair and Secretary, been the treasurer for BASCD, and have been an honorary lecturer for Birmingham Dental School. I am currently the President for the National Association for Prison Dentists UK. I have also been a TPD, a lead trainer and an examiner for ISFE in dental public health. Publications have been on a wide range of topics including oral and general health associations, dental sedation, water fluoridation, carbon modelling, case-mix for special care and reasons for the decline in dental caries. I’m currently involved in publication on health and wellbeing for dentists, barriers to dentistry for the homeless and prison dentistry. I am currently the National Lead for Dental Public Health for Public Health England leading a team who deliver the national dental epidemiology programmer, dental intelligence, water fluoridation responsibilities and oral health improvement for England. We support DHSC with contract reform, NHS England and Office of CDO at a national level and lead on protecting the public, improving oral health and reducing inequalities for England.
What has been your most memorable achievement in the profession?
It’s difficult to pin down one achievement as I have had a varied career over different disciplines. When I think about ‘memorable’ aspects of my career it’s many of the one to one clinical aspects I remember – particular patients – people who were phobic who then received treatment, some ‘special needs’ patients who were so grateful for very simple help. It’s the personal relationships that are memorable on an emotional level. When I was working clinically in special care I was proud to have set up services for those who were homeless in a ‘soup kitchen’, set up domiciliary and sedation services from scratch and set up a GA service in a matter of weeks when the local provider stopped providing the service.
One of my biggest achievements was actually also a failure! I was the dental public health lead for the water fluoridation consultation for Southampton and the eventual decision to fluoridate the water supply was the first in decades. Our process was challenged in the high court and we were ‘unimpeachable’. The scheme could have changed the oral health of a whole city. Unfortunately, politics meant that the scheme never went ahead despite the agreement and successful consultation. In my current job I am most proud of the team I have built and their contribution to improving population health– they are a group of dedicated, supportive individuals with extensive knowledge and skills and huge reserves of resilience to cope with their national roles.
What advice would you give your younger self on qualifying?
- You don’t have to drill and fill all your life.
- Don’t ever kid yourself that you’ll have a 9-5 job. You’ll have to work hard to find some balance or you’ll crash and burn.
- Challenging is OK – I felt that challenging the status quo in my early career was not considered acceptable and it would have been easy to have just kept my head down. Its fine to be brave - Nothing ever improves unless someone puts their head above the parapet. Disagree without being disagreeable.
Which of your mentors have influenced you the most?
There are many people I have learned key skills from or who have helped me. My first job was in a busy max fax department. One of the Consultants, ‘Miss Gilbe’ was known to all students as a particularly scary dragon, but I actually learned a lot in terms of ‘to do’ lists, organisation and discipline.
Sue Gregory has employed me three times in three different roles so I have been able to learn a lot from her. She is the champion of networking. David Thomas was one of my consultant trainers, and I was his first trainee- it was a learning curve for both of us! He helped me to find structure and was marvellous at Machiavellian working. Helen Falcon for being a wise calm owl – I still appreciate her advice and counsel.
My mum was probably my greatest mentor though – for how to live life, as that impacts on work too. I still find her words ringing in my ears - ‘It’s better to be kind than right’ or just ‘love and support’. It works just as well on building a team, as with miscreant teenagers.
How have you used mentoring throughout your career?
I’ve only had a couple of formal mentors. I still meet up with Helen and bounce problems off her for a fresh eye and to help sort my own thoughts out. I had a previous mentor for a short time while I was in a particularly challenging part of my career and was, on reflection, being bullied by a colleague who wasn’t even in my organization. I remember talking about how the colleague upset me with my mentor. There was the recognition that I could choose whether to be upset …or not, and that some people are just ‘not very nice’ and there is nothing you can do to change them. Quite liberating really.