Blue-sky thinking with Amit Patel

Amit Patel at the ADI congress

We spoke to specialist periodontist, clinical lecturer and ADI president, Amit Patel, about his origins, specialist training, and skydiving ambitions.

Where did you grow up and what was family life like?

I grew up in Edgware, north-west London. We were self-sufficient kids because my mum and dad worked hard. I enjoyed it – I played out on the street and had access to central London and all that it offers. You could buy a travelcard for 70p back then!

How did you get into dentistry?

I wanted to leave school at 16 to join the army, or something like that. I just did not enjoy learning, but all my mates were all going on to do A-Levels, so I followed them. However, I failed my A-Levels because I wasn’t really interested in learning back then. 

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Because I was good with my hands and technical, a teacher said I should be a surgeon or a dentist. I asked which one was easier, and they said dentistry. 

I retook my A-Levels, applied to dental school and got in! Actually, the only establishment to offer me a place was the School of Dentistry at the University of Liverpool – I think they basically took pity on me. Thankfully, the grades needed were lower than they are now. These days, I would probably struggle to get in. 

So, off I went to Liverpool. I didn’t want to leave London and my mum cried all the way home. Being a classic southerner, she told me it was cold up north, so furnished me with an electric blanket. I was the only person on campus with one!

What was dental school like? 

I really enjoyed the student experience and hung out with great people. 

In my fourth year, I went to see some guys who were dual qualified, dentist and medics, cutting open someone’s neck during a maxfax procedure. I thought, ‘this is cool’ and knew I wanted to study medicine next – I could do things like this!

I gained experience in oral and maxillofacial surgery via hospital posts, then got an offer to do medicine at Leeds, which was only a three-year course back then. I was planning to do medicine after my VT year. 

In my VT year, I spent time with Philip Green, who is a specialist in periodontics in Manchester. He and his colleagues took me out for dinner; one was a periodontist and one an endodontist. They asked if I was good with a scalpel. I said yes, so they suggested periodontics. And the rest is history! 

My story does not apply to the new breed of dentists. My education was ordinary, and I just stumbled from one interest to another, until I found my true calling. 

I must be honest, I am still meandering and love to learn new things, but what I have learnt is that things do work out in the end.

So, next stop was specialist training? 

I really wanted to live in Edinburgh, because it is a great city, but there was no perio course on offer there. So, I applied to Guy’s and St Thomas’, part of the King’s College London Dental Institute, where I found a course that allowed me to work for two days a week, so I could pay for my training. 

I started the four-year perio pathway, which was fun, but we were cleaning teeth every day. I spoke to one of my mentors at the time, Dr Alan Sidi, and told him I was bored. He invited me to his practice at Portland Place – I loved it, I got to watch advanced periodontal therapies and advanced surgical reconstructions. 

He really was instrumental to my love of perio. Together, we used to do sinus lifts in his practice, which was pretty advanced for a trainee! 

Finally, I gained my MRD, a prestigious specialty degree that then put me on the GDC register of specialists.

So, then your career became supercharged…

I was now a specialist in perio, one of the few who had graduated, and I realised so much more could be done. 

I started attending European conferences and meetings; the European periodontists were performing a higher complexity of clinical work and they walked to a different tune. 

I also realised that, as a specialist, I was at the bottom of the pyramid, not the top. That’s where the dentist is, because they refer to us and it was about building relationships and networks with dentists to increase referrals.

At this time, my girlfriend, Sunny, was completing her medical training and convinced me to move to Birmingham. 

Soon after moving, Professor Iain Chapple MBE, who was head of the School of Dentistry at the University of Birmingham, offered me a post. 

I stayed for 10 years. He took me under his wing and exposed me to a world of opportunities. He has been instrumental in my career development. Without him, I would not be lecturing on big international stages like Europerio to 14,000 people, and at other conferences around the world.

Because of Professor Chapple, I have met some of the most pre-eminent people in periodontics, people I had read about. It’s been humbling, as well as amazing. I owe him more than he knows.

Then it was time to open your own practice?

In 2011, I stopped travelling from practice to practice as a specialist and set up a squat practice in Birmingham with just one chair – me! 

10 years later, I haven’t looked back. I am two-to-three months busy in advance. The treatment isn’t exceptionally difficult, but I love building relationships with my patients and enjoy doing the absolute best I can for them.

Tell us about your work with the Association of Dental Implantology (ADI)

Recently, I became president of the Association of Dental Implantology (ADI). The politics is sometimes tough to deal with, and affecting change has been hard. But it has been a great experience, and an honour. 

We grew the size of the committee and it is now easier to delegate work. I have also made some lifelong friends on committee.

My aim was to get more new, younger members to join. We reached out to young dentists and attracted speakers I would like to have heard, and been influenced by, early in my own career. 

We have social media-experienced clinicians now, who are helping spread the word about the ADI to a whole new audience.

The ADI Team Congress 2023 was recently held in Birmingham at the ICC we had a record number of delegates – 1100 attended!

The ADI conference

Tell us more about the ADI congress

The event started on the 4th May – Star Wars Day for all you fans out there! I had my hair in princesses Leia buns. I want to thanks the Geislicht reps, Nicola Leetham and Sophia Knops, who did my hair. Then, at the Star Wars party, we raised £12k to cut my hair. It went to make into a wigs for the little princess trust and the money will go to Shaz Memon’s worthy charity, Wells on Wheels.

I really want to thank the wonderful people who have donated money to make such a huge difference for the girls in India. Shaz mentioned that the wheels they donate to the mothers to carry water allows the daughters to go to school. They have sent 2000 girls to school since the beginning of the charity back in 2019.

We have now raised £20k – thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your generosity.

We had Tim Peake, the astronaut, give the keynote lecture and he was truly inspirational. We also had the world’s best implant dentists attend this international event.

As a society, ADI are trying to engage with younger dentists who wish to consider dental implants as a career. We set up a NextGen Committee, who are an exceptional group of talented and enthusiastic young individuals and will be the future of implant dentistry.

We also have the youngest board members and DCP representatives, Danny Cleary and Linzy Baker, and they did an exceptional job running their programmes. We, again, had the most delegates attending their events. I’m so chuffed that everyone has risen to the challenge! Well done to all who have helped ADI to make this a fantastic event!

Amit having his hair cut at the ADI congress

What’s next for you, Amit? 

Dare I say, after all this, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for! These days, I’d prefer to skydive and hope to wingsuit and ultimately base jump. 

I learned to skydive in 1997 right after I qualified as a dentist. It helps me switch off, which is a gift. 

Without it, I would be talking cases 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But I enjoy mentoring people and I spend many evenings talking through cases with dentists.

I wonder what is around the next corner? 

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