Affan Saghir on the ‘special moment’ of winning Young Dentist

Affan Saghir

Affan Saghir discusses what it takes to be a good dentist, the importance of having values, and how to retain staff.

Congratulations on winning Young Dentist UK! How did it feel to win?

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be put forward as a contestant, let alone win Young Dentist UK.

That was a massive achievement for me personally, but I think it meant so much more to my dad. He has championed me and my brothers to go into higher education – my two younger brothers are now doctors, and I’m a dentist. For him to be at the awards ceremony and collect the award, I think that was a special moment for him. I live in a small village, and I think he’s gone and told everybody that I’ve won an award, including the lady on the till in the supermarket!

Being able to share those moments with your parents is very special, so I’m glad that he was able to enjoy that.

Your dad is clearly a great inspiration to you and your brothers. How did you get into dentistry? Was he an influence for you in your career?

My father was always instilling values of looking after and caring for people, as well as going into higher education. He’s always been the one to encourage my brothers and me to push the boundaries and go on courses to learn, reflect and become the people that we are today.

I’m very lucky to be a dental practice owner now. I have over 40 members of staff, and I treat them like a family. I look after and care for them, and I look after and care for my patients, as well. I think that all boils down to the kind of person that I am, and I wouldn’t be that person without my parents giving me those values from a very early age.

You mention the importance of values – what values, techniques and education do you think are required to be a good dentist?

I would break being a good dentist down into two parts. The first part is the clinical aspect. I’ve completed a postgraduate diploma in clear aligner therapy, and I’ve recently been accredited with a master’s with distinction in advanced aesthetic and restorative dentistry.

I think you will only be as good a dentist as the amount of knowledge and expertise you absorb. I’ve been on multiple courses in the UK and abroad. I’ve been to Japan, America, Italy, travelling around the world in pursuit of knowledge.

Good clinical work also comes with experience. I remember one of my dental professors telling me that experience helps you become a polished dentist.

Over the years, I have learned a lot more about occlusion, how to manage patients, how to help patients, how to write better, how to communicate better, and so on. It takes time for that second part.

I still like to think I’m a young dentist, so I’ve got a long way ahead of me! I still have a lot of learning, reflecting and growing to do.

The second part is the non-clinical aspect of dentistry. That’s how you look after and care for your team, the people in the profession, the profession itself, and ultimately, the patient.

For example, I have multiple anxious patients who come in wanting to improve their smile. It’s about building a relationship, taking your time, listening to the patient, making sure that the gums and teeth are healthy, then continuing with cosmetic treatment when they are ready.

Is there anything that you’re striving to achieve in the next few years either professionally or personally?

I’m very appreciative of all the opportunities that I’ve been given, and I’ve worked with credible, ethical dentists that have given me a good grounding in dentistry. I now hope that with being a practice owner, I can do the same for the people that work here.

I’m very lucky that I have phenomenal dentists working at Space Dental. They are helping patients, caring for the team, growing as clinicians and growing the practice. My next step in life is now to help them achieve that personal and professional growth as much as I can.

Of course, I also want to evolve as a dentist, and I still have a long way of learning ahead of me. I want to grow my understanding of restorative dentistry further.

I’d like to separate my time between teaching and mentoring, and also providing dental care to patients.

You put a lot into your practice and the team members that work there. What do you think are some key things practice owners should be doing to retain their staff and make sure they’re happy?

My dental nurse, Jade, started as a trainee dental nurse in 2013. She’s now the head nurse for the practice and has been working with me ever since. She drives an hour to the practice just to work here.

It just goes to show that if you have a family atmosphere where everybody cares for each other, your staff will be a part of it.

Each team member deserves the same respect and decency, so I treat everybody with respect and give everybody my time. I’ve got an open-door policy, so I welcome them into my office. They can sit down and have a chat with me whenever they like. I’m always receptive to listening and developing; that’s just the way I run things.

‘I get everyone involved’

Every morning, I start work at 8:15, and we do a morning huddle for 15 minutes. The morning huddle starts with me sitting down and talking about a topic. It might be something that I’ve heard on a podcast or read in a book. It’s just a couple of points that will give my team something positive to think about.

Then I get everyone involved – we might do a roleplay exercise or a team building activity. That’s something that I do every morning without fail. I think it sets a standard, because if I’m there at 8:15 and always excited and keen to work, then my team knows they need to be there, ready and willing to work, as well.

The final point is clinical progression. All the dentists, dental hygienists, therapists, nurses that work here, we sit down with them and go through what their wants are in life, so we can try to help and support them.

I teach on composite bonding, photography, smile design, anterior alignment and orthodontics, and I give them free access to observe and learn from me. We have a phantom head in the practice, so they can come in on their days off and practice on the teeth.

Why is focusing on the team so important for you?

As a practice owner, your job entails more than just owning a practice. You’re there as a friend for staff members when they need it. For example, when they’re going through personal matters like a divorce, or little issues on a day-to-day basis. They should feel comfortable enough to reach out to you and ask for a chat.

That’s the difference between someone who really cares and wants to be a part of the journey versus somebody who’s just doing it and isn’t invested.

We also have a beautiful practice environment: we have TVs, air conditioning, and really nice facilities. We have a staff room, a vending machine – all these things that genuinely help make the staff feel happy.

‘I’ve done my level best to give everything that I possibly can’

To quote Simon Sinek, always start with ‘why’. Why did I take myself out of my comfort zone and open a dental practice? My ‘why’ was very pure, and to this day, there is only one reason – to help my team.

I could see that the dental nurses deserve so much better, the team members deserve so much better. They deserve an environment that they areproud of, that they feel a part of and like it’s their family.

That’s why I’ve done my level best to give everything that I possibly can to them. For example, our hygienists and therapists have a one-hour hygiene appointment. If they need to come back in two or eight weeks for a review, so be it.

These are the kinds of benefits that we have in the practice to help each member of the team. All this boils down to the ‘why’. My ‘why’ was to provide a caring environment for the whole team, to inspire and achieve with integrity, and to look after the patient. That is what I’m doing, so I’m very proud of my why.

How do you unwind after work? What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a love/hate relationship with going to the gym. I’m very lucky that I have lots of local and distant friends that always check on me. They make sure that I’m eating healthily and looking after myself.

I do genuinely enjoy health and wellbeing, going to the gym, lifting weights, and eating healthily.

I also enjoy going to different places to eat – I’ve probably eaten in every restaurant in Leeds! I enjoy seeing new things and travelling.

Also, I’ve always wanted to be an oil painter, but I don’t really get a chance to paint often. Every oil painting that I do starts off with a dark ombre background, and then you have to apply linseed oil and wait for that to dry. And then the canvas just gets left! I’ve got lots of early started canvases with dark ombre and linseed oil, but that’s basically as far as they get!

When I do have time, I try to go to museums and look at oil paintings. Recently, I went to the Louvre in Paris. Sometimes I come down to London to see some galleries. If I’m staying in Leeds or Manchester, I try to detox and look at some art.

So, art, eating foods, health and wellbeing, and then spending time with family when I have a chance.

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