Reaping the rewards of hard work

Oliver Fav Mod Pink Tie bleachAward-winning cosmetic and restorative dentist Oliver Harman, a founding member of the BACD explains how a strong work ethic, continuing education and great mentors have led him to ultimate success

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

OH: I was born in Birmingham but brought up in Ealing in London. I spent my childhood making things and playing golf before going to Royal Dental Hospital Leicester Square. My family are a mix of lawyers, artists and craftsmen including cabinetmakers and blacksmiths all from Staffordshire or Warwickshire. I presently live in Tunbridge Wells, Kent with my fiancée Fiona and we have four grown up children between us.

What or who made you choose a career in dentistry and why did you focus on cosmetic dentistry?

OH: I always wanted to do cosmetic dentistry, I just didn’t realise that in 1983 it didn’t really exist. My father worked in fashion magazine publishing and my mother was an actress, so I got exposed to 1960s glamour as a child – so for someone who liked nature and making things and aspired to do something artistic, dentistry seemed to be a suitable career choice.

Can you tell us about building your business?

In my 33-year career I have been an associate, had an expense sharing partnership and started a squat in Tunbridge Wells. The location chose me as our two youngest children were at school nearby but in hindsight it was the wrong place for my skills. I soon realised that cosmetic work is not as highly valued in the South East as some other regions of the country. My fiancée took on most the practice management and trained as a nurse so I would always have full time cover. In addition, I was extremely lucky to be approached by a highly qualified nurse who had worked in a top cosmetic practice in Essex.  After five and a half years the lease was coming to an end and I decided I would be better off working for other people so I could work in better locations.

To be frank while I love the idea of business and reading and studying about it I am not disciplined or hard-nosed enough to be a great businessman. I just like doing the job and nowadays it is very hard to work in your business and also work on your business. For that reason I have gone back to being an associate where I can rent out my skills to people who are better at business than me.Oliver Chris Orr Marion Coxan 2015 Aesthetic Dental Awards

What have been your best decisions?

I have been luck enough to work with some great mentors in my life. Three of them I actively pushed to work with, John Hubbard (one of John McLean’s brilliant ceramists), Chris Orr and Tony Laurie and the other I worked with by luck, the maverick orthodontist John Mew who taught me to think out of the box. You will notice two of these are dental technicians! I also did an extended occlusal course in 1986 at the Eastman Dental Hospital which has been an invaluable foundation to my restorative dentistry through out my career.

In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?

I should have done an MSc early on and tried to go on to become a specialist in restorative dentistry back in the late 1980s. I thought about it but the kids came along and I didn’t feel it was practical to become a full or part-time student again.

How are you involved with the BACD?

I was a founder member of the BACD and was on the communication committee for a number of years before being elected to the board for a two-year stint. Currently I am an Accreditation and Fellowship examiner.

What are the benefits of joining the organisation?

The opportunity to meet, discuss and work with great UK cosmetic dentists. In fact I owe my latest job to the friendships I have made through the BACD.

How important is patient communication to you?

In cosmetic dentistry it is everything! You can do excellent dentistry that completely fails if the outcome is different from the one in the patient’s head. I use a careful sequenced protocol to understand what a patient wants and then refining it over the treatment course constantly checking the patient feels happy with the outcome. Following a comprehensive discussion and assessment I then use a hand designed photo-simulation often assisted by the placement of composite mock-ups. I like to be 95% sure what I am going to do for my patient before I begin and the rest we can work out as we go along.

How do you stay abreast of modern techniques?

Online education is brilliant bringing worldwide skills directly to you. For instance when I wanted to learn more about Cerec I signed up to James Klim’s excellent online tutorials from California. It also allowed me to do my MSc as a distance learning student which after over 30 years in practice allowed me to get up to speed with the UK’s latest thinking. The MSc also changed my perspective on evidence-based dentistry completely. I was somewhat sceptical of its benefits going into my course but now I really understand the value of each layer of evidence from a simple case study to a systemic review I am a total convert.

Professionally, what are you most proud of?

After an undistinguished undergraduate career I was extremely excited to get a distinction and best year clinical cases in my Manchester University MSc 30 years later – that slayed a few ghosts. Equally my BACD Accreditation and Fellowship and my three Smile Awards mean a lot to me – my work judged by my peers.

Where do you get your motivation and drive from? 

Black-country hard work ethic – I always feel guilty if I just sit around.

How do you relax in your spare time and how do you balance work and family life?

Badly! I sold my squat practice because working in and running the practice became a seven-day a week job and there was no longer any balance, particularly after CQC came along. A better balance is returning to my life now and Fiona and I are finishing work on our house, as well as getting up to the Lakes to go walking now I spend time working in Liverpool. Now the children are all at university or working we have a little more time to ourselves.

What lessons have you learned in the course of your career?

Everything moves very so fast now and patient expectations have changed dramatically. Patient communication is always the most important skill. Dentistry has never been more exciting and interesting to practice. However I now worry that however good you are you may still be damned by unrealistic patients and then often not supported by organisations entrusted to look after dentistry in the UK who spend most of their time fighting each other. We live both ‘in the best of times’ but also ‘the worst of times.’

Do you have any regrets? What has been your biggest mistake?

My biggest mistake was to have sold my half share in my general practice in Chesham in Buckinghamshire. I did not really appreciate the value of the patient book I had built up over 15 years and how special it was. I should have kept the practice as it would have given me a far more stable working life for the second half of my career, but then I would have never worked in the City of London practising what I would call ‘international’ level dentistry for patients from all over the world which I loved doing. You make your choice and my career has had its ups and downs but it has never been dull.

What are your plans for the future?

2015 has seen all change. I now split my time between Tunbridge Wells and Liverpool – I think I have always enjoyed working in two places. You have a bad day in one and then your somewhere else the next day so you don’t dwell on it too much. I have learnt so much over the last five years getting to grips with digital dentistry and doing my MSc that it is time to consolidate and do more of what I am best at which if it is anything is good vision of the final outcome and knowing how to treatment plan to achieve it.

Fact file

Qualifications: BDS (Lond) LDS RCS (Eng) MSc Cosmetic Restorative Dentistry (Man.) BACD Fellow
Position: Associate dentist for Hill House Dental Practice (Oasis Group) and Liverpool Dental Spa. Limited to cosmetic restorative dentistry
Dental interests: Minimally invasive makeovers using additive composite, ceramic and laser dentistry
Interests out of dentistry: Golf, building, and walking.


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