From engineering to implant dentistry – the unlikely career path of Andrew Fennell

From engineering to implant dentistry– the unlikely career path of Andrew Fennell

While most dentists follow a more direct route, Andrew Fennell’s path to becoming clinical lead, and a full-time implant dentist, was somewhat unconventional.

While dentistry was in the family – Andrew’s father, Michael, started Winning Smiles, the practice where Andrew now works in 1995. It was not his first career choice. Andrew left school at 16 and became an engineer officer on a transatlantic cargo ship, only leaving his career at sea when a motorcycle accident at 22 forced him to reassess.

He applied and got into dental school: ‘I thought that dentistry would allow me to use both my engineering skills and my people skills which I felt were being neglected in the engine room,’ he describes.

Today he is the clinical director at Winning Smiles. He leads the team while devoting his clinical time to dental implants and full mouth rehabilitation.

Andrew’s interest in his specialism was first sparked when he was an undergraduate at Guy’s Hospital: ‘In his first lecture, the head of the denture department said “never forget that dentures are only better than nothing”.

‘Once I got into practice, I found that really was the case. I thought, there must be a way that we can help these patients? I observed some patients with complete lower dentures suffering from malnutrition.

‘They couldn’t eat proper food and other patients on self-imposed house arrest because they couldn’t wear their denture teeth and were too embarrassed to go out.’

Totally different

Andrew continued to look for solutions for his patients and as implants became more sophisticated, he took a serious interest: ‘It looked like implants could provide me with a solution that would change these people’s lives. And it absolutely did.’

He recalls an early case, where he saw the life-changing impact implants could have: ‘An old lady in her 80s came to see me, she couldn’t eat properly. As a result, she was malnourished and losing weight,’ he describes.

‘I placed two implants connected to an implant denture. And within months, she was looking and feeling totally different. She was transformed, she just looked healthy and happy. And I thought, I’m really onto something. It really becomes a focus when you start to see that you can transform people’s lives.’

Today, Andrew routinely carries out immediate implants for single teeth and full-mouth replacement, using techniques such as bone grafting, and fitting both fixed and removable (implant denture) teeth.

In the last few years, he has spent much time with world renowned implant surgeon Dr Marco Degidi in Bologna, learning his technique for full jaw replacement teeth on the same day.

‘I now feel happier at work’

Andrew is passionate about implant dentistry, but admits he found work stressful when his role also encompassed the administrative side of the business – he was dealing with practice HR, finances, and general management.

In 2021, Winning Smiles joined Dentex – a change that Andrew credits with allowing him to focus on his dentistry again and removing a lot of his work-life stress.

‘Not having the financials to worry about, not having HR to worry about. For me, it was those areas that were the biggest stress – the dentistry I enjoy. I now feel happier at work. I feel calmer both when I’m at work and away.’

With the freedom to focus wholly on clinical dentistry, Andrew noticed he was leading his team better – without the ‘noise’ of administrative distractions.

‘Clinically, I’m working as hard as I was and still heading the team, but the quality of the support I can now offer the other clinicians is so much better,’ he says.

‘If one of my associates comes in and asks me about a case, in between patients, I’ve got the space in my head to give him or her my full attention.

‘Before, there were so many other issues I had to tackle, which meant I neglected leading the team on a clinical basis. There was too much other stuff in my head. I now feel like I’m leading the team a lot better than I was.’

Happier and well rounded

Less administrative burden also allows Andrew more time for his other passion, sailing; his team won the Round Britain and Ireland Race this year, and he’s set to compete in the world’s largest offshore race, the Fastnet, in 2023.

While Andrew’s active interests may not be the typical side-line for a dentist, he attributes it to creating a work-life balance that makes him happier and more well rounded. ‘And it is certainly true that my co-workers prefer working with a happy dentist!’ he adds.

You can read part one here:

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This article does not constitute advice on any specific matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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