Ellis Paul (1930 – 2024): honouring a dental legend   

Ellis Paul (1930 – 2024)

Dr Ellis Paul, the pioneering clinician and editor who helped shape private dental care in the UK, has died at the age of 93.  

His name was synonymous with private practice. As editor-in-chief of the journal Private Dentistry, Ellis helped countless principals and businesses embrace a way of working outside the national health service for almost 30 years.  

He did not so much ride the crest of private dentistry’s wave as tell the tide exactly where to go. In 1996, he launched the quarterly FMC journal Independent Dentistry as a new model of practice flourished in the wake of the 1995 NHS dental contract.  

‘The face of dentistry is changing as it has never done before,’ he wrote in the very first issue. His words were prophetic – but even Ellis could not anticipate the sea change his work would help usher in. Within two years the title had grown exponentially in readership and regularity. Further, it had rebranded to a name that endures today – Private Dentistry – as the UK embraced private care.  

Ellis was editor in chief for 23 years until stepping back in 2018. Unable to replace him even then, the journal appointed him editor emeritus, enshrining his name in the journal that he steered from concept to astonishing success.  

Ellis Paul: ahead of his time  

Those who knew Ellis will no doubt smile at this. After all, it was all in a day’s work for a man so consistently ahead of his time in his thinking about dentistry.  

Ellis was the originator of four-handed dentistry, a concept born from his relentless, pioneering focus on teamwork and posture more than 20 years before they became the norm. The concept would inform his first book – A Manual of Four-handed Dentistry, commissioned by Quintessence after a tour de force series of lectures for the British Dental Association (BDA).  

He refuted the idea that neck and back pain were a given for dental professionals. His solution was to address dentists’ posture – most notably the idea that dentists should sit down. This approach, unheard of when he started practising in 1955, is now the standard. If there is any doubt of this impact just ask yourself – how many dentists now work standing up?   

Ellis’ teachings extended the working life of thousands of dental professionals, and continue to be passed down to new generations today.  

Sharing knowledge  

His four-handed dentistry concept also revolved around teamwork: another of his calling cards. Performed correctly, the technique he described was a symphony of coordination between dentist and dental nurse.  

This thinking powered his second book, Team Dentistry: Chairside Procedures and Management. Here, he set out the ethos forged over 40 years of clinical practice in Manchester’s city centre.  

Ellis was ever keen to share his knowledge with the world, and training became a huge part of his life. Whether lecturing at Liverpool University, helping set up evening classes for nurses at Salford Technical College, or offering hands-on training in posture, the thrill of working with new people and sharing his passions never diminished.  

Inevitably, this came with recognition from within the dental profession. Ellis was the first chairman of the BDA’s Independent Dentistry committee when it launched in 1993. In 2007, he was recognised with Fellowship of the BDA, an accolade followed in 2011 with Fellowship by Election of the Faculty of General Dental Practice (UK). 

Behind the dental mask  

All this was achieved with the humility, diplomacy and professionalism that were his trademark, mixed with no small dose of humour. Indeed, to those who knew him, no picture of Ellis is complete without his soft Lancastrian chuckle. He found the comedy in everything, though his brand of humour was self-admittedly bone-dry.  

Ellis passed away surrounded by family, with his four children Jonny, Alexis, Ben and Gideon at his bedside. While his health had deteriorated in the six years since his beloved wife Jennifer had passed, his fierce devotion to his passions never deserted him.  

He insisted on having dental media – especially his cherished Private Dentistry – read to him. A devoutly religious man, he proudly embraced Judaism as a fundamental part of his identity, and continued to observe the daily customs of his faith even as his health made doing so more difficult.  

It is impossible to imagine dentistry without Dr Ellis Paul’s influence.  

He was a world-leading, pioneering dentist, whose integrity and vision changed his profession for the better. But behind the dental mask he was so much more: caring father, devoted husband and selfless friend.  

May his memory be a blessing.  

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