Professor Andrew Eder on the joys of a career in dentistry

by Chris Jackson

After 35 years as a dentist in practice and a clinical academic at UCL, Professor Andrew Eder reflects on his personal journey from wanting to be a motorbike policeman to being a dentist and now a Finito mentor

When reflecting on the Covid-19 experience, it is impossible to do so without saluting all those working in healthcare. Whether clinicians caring for patients on the frontline, public health colleagues determining new pathways or scientists developing vaccines, all have played a key role and we thank each and every one of them for their commitment. Despite the tremendous challenges they may have faced, higher education application data suggests that increasing numbers of young people wish to follow their lead and enter the healthcare professions, with doctors, dentists, nurses and scientists being just some examples of the many career options.

My journey

It is at these challenging times that I feel blessed and humbled to have worked alongside so many dedicated colleagues for so many years. Let me briefly share my story. I graduated from King’s College London as a dentist in 1986. I have since worked in NHS, Private and Specialist Practice alongside a parallel career as a clinical academic at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute. 

But the early journey was bumpy to say the least. At 12 years old, I wanted to be a motorbike policeman – my life was all planned! But by 14, and after two years of pretty intense orthodontic treatment under the care of an inspirational orthodontist, everything changed. I had a complete about-turn and now wanted to be a dentist, this time my life really was sorted and my parents were ecstatic. I had a plan and knew what I needed to do.

I enjoyed a privileged school education – a preparatory school in North West London followed by a scholarship entry route to St Paul’s. All seemed to be going well with good friends and success at O-levels. However, I soon started to struggle with aspects of the sciences despite working hard. But then, at A-level, my whole world came crashing down. With the simplest of actions, the opening of an envelope, my life-plan seemed to have slipped away with A-levels results far short of my offers for entry to Dental School.

Off I went with my father to see the Careers Head at St Paul’s to be told that I would never get into Dental School and needed to consider other options. I recall so very clearly my father looking straight into my eyes and asking whether I still wanted to be a dentist. Without hesitation, I responded positively. So, the question was no longer when but how this ambition could be achieved, if at all. 

My father marched me out of St Paul’s as they could do no more for me and I was enrolled in a crammer sixth form college in Kensington on the very next day. I still wanted to be a dentist and there was no time to lose. I spent a year reinforcing key knowledge and, more importantly, learning how to apply this knowledge by doing hundreds and hundreds of practice questions. Not a fun year by any stretch of the imagination, but a means to an end. A year later, I got three As in my A-levels and even an S-level. My place at Dental School was secured and I have truly enjoyed the past 35 years without ever looking back.

Careers advice

The younger generation are our future and I am grateful for the opportunity to give several careers talks each year. It is also a particular pleasure to regularly host work experience students in my practice. My message about dentistry, healthcare, or any other area of career interest for that matter, is simple: explore your interests broadly, always have options, work hard, enjoy life and, most importantly, always live your dream.

Where now

As an experienced clinical academic working as a Professor and Consultant at UCL and also as a Specialist in my own practice in central London’s Wimpole Street, my professional life has focused on excellence and innovation in clinical dentistry and dental education. Throughout a career spanning more than three decades, I provide high-quality care for patients with complex oral health needs and contribute to the training of dentists, postgraduates and NHS trainees.

Working in healthcare

Working as a clinician is hard but rewarding. And it is not just about the hours or working within a heavily regulated profession but also the emotional drain of clinical situations. But there are so many positives. For me, looking after so many wonderful patients for over three decades has allowed me to see them grow, just as I have grown. Along the way, we may discuss family events and work challenges as well as good and more difficult experiences. If patients are blessed with children and grandchildren, we might share pictures. For some families, I have the pleasure of looking after several generations. 

Deciding on what to become or what degree course to take, and where, is challenging to say the least. Historically, there were plans to have a single-entry Bachelor of Science degree for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science as one may not always be absolutely certain of a preferred career path, particularly at a young age. After a couple of years at university, and for those who have been the most successful in their studies, a decision on a future direction of travel can be taken. Sadly, this plan never took off and, as a result, teenagers are faced with deciding on a specific professional trajectory at a young age.

Diversification

For some, making such a life-determining career decision works well as it did for me. For others, less so and sometimes changes have to be made along the way. However, most interesting is the tremendously broad range of options available within healthcare, even on a part-time basis. For me, I have always enjoyed a parallel clinical and academic career, with each supporting the other. For others, communicating with people may not turn out to be a strength and they may not enjoy patient contact and prefer to be in the laboratory or behind a microscope. Others may enjoy writing and I have found this a superb way to share clinical knowledge and experience with colleagues whilst also being able to educate the general public. 

Tooth wear

Within a very diversified career, I have developed a particular interest in one aspect of dentistry. As we live longer and keep our teeth for longer as we learn how to manage tooth decay and gum disease, our teeth wear due perhaps to acidic foods and drinks in our diets or from grinding and clenching at night in response to stress (fig. 1). Having reached out to colleagues across Europe, we have written a multi-authored textbook for all members of the dental team, including dental students. The first edition was released in 2000, updated in 2008 and a completely revised edition is in press. I suppose this is my legacy piece to thank my own teachers and my colleagues for their support, to educate younger dentists and to ultimately benefit patient care.

What next

My family have always been my priority with my wife, Rosina, being my best friend who is always there to listen and offer sound and practical advice. After 35 years as a dentist working with patients in practice and students in academia, I have made positive decisions about my future career. Health permitting, I intend to continue caring for patients for the foreseeable future. I have, however, recently retired from my academic role but still continue to teach, examine and supervise research as an Emeritus Professor at UCL. This has intentionally freed up some time across a previously very busy week to instead build a part-time portfolio career, one important part of which will be to support and guide future younger colleagues in my role as a Finito mentor, and to spend a little more quality time with my wife, our children and our grandchildren.

Professor Andrew Eder has been in Private Practice since qualifying from King’s College London in 1986. He is also Emeritus Professor at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute and formerly Consultant at UCLH and Pro-Vice-Provost at UCL.

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