One regret, one hope with Amir Savage

Reading time: 4 minutes
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.

This week Mona’s guest is Amir Savage, Programme Director for MSc Diploma in Restorative Dentistry and Senior Clinical Lecturer in the Dental Institute.

MS: What led you to dentistry as a profession and your current research?

AS: I’ve always been interested in helping people and that’s probably predominantly what led me into dentistry. When I was doing my A-Levels I looked at the options there and it was either going to be medicine or dentistry. Funnily at the time junior doctors were doing 100-hour weeks – probably not dissimilar to what they’re doing now – so dentistry seemed like the best option in combining both my wants and needs in feeling that I wanted to help people while having a family life as well.

In terms of my role at Edinburgh I’m focused on developing and delivering the online MSc in restorative dentistry. I work with a team of about 10 colleagues based all over the UK in my role and prior to August last year it was predominantly a face-to-face role but it’s now done remotely.

MS: How challenging has it been to do this remotely?

AS: To start off with it was extremely challenging, but the interesting thing, and I suppose the positive thing that the pandemic has created, is that it’s allowed us to look at technology in a completely different way. I have a lot more Teams meetings, but I’m able to see and connect with more people than I would have if I were arranging several meetings throughout the day.

MS: Can you explain what exactly is restorative dentistry?

AS: It’s essentially the field of dentistry, as it says in the name, that restores. We look at trying to rebuild what patients have lost so, for example, their enamel, the tooth structure itself, but I think nowadays as well it’s also looking at the aesthetic side of dentistry. The main disciplines within restorative dentistry are endodontic or root canal which everyone knows, gum treatments and gum disease, so that’s periodontology, my main special interest, and prosthodontics which is rebuilding the crowns, the bridges.

MS: Do you think there’s been a gradual change in recent years – we always hear that people are afraid or reluctant to go to dentists, but has that changed simply because there’s more to dentistry than just treatment and, exactly as you say, the aesthetics matters just as much now?

AS: Yes I think you’re absolutely right. I think there used to be fear of the unknown, fear of procedures, but people are a lot more aware that times have changed. Technology has improved the way we do things and also they’re a lot more aware through the media of what can actually be achieved to enhance their smile – to enhance their quality of life.

Having said that I still have some patients who still have that apprehension but once they’ve seen the clinic and realise it’s now very different from what they may have experienced 15 or 20 years ago, I think a lot of them are very much comfortable now in, not only having the treatment but more importantly, maintaining their care.

MS: And on that point, if there was one piece of advice to everyone, irrespective of their age, gender and background, on keeping every aspect of their teeth and mouth as healthy as possible, what would it be?

AS: I think the important thing would be for them to visit their dentist. It’s really important to have your dental MOT because your general dentist not only just looks at your teeth and gums but will also be able to advise you in keeping it as healthy as possible.

As well as this, in terms of brushing, consider an electric brush, brush twice a day and also look at interdental brushes – it’s not only flossing, it’s going in with these brushes, and I think from a preventative part, fluoride toothpaste is essential. So it’s simple things that can make a massive difference.

MS: So is there one regret, either in your personal or professional life that you could share with us?

AS: I think my family would say my biggest regret is not investing in bitcoin and Amazon shares early enough. Joking aside, I would probably take myself back to being to being a teenager, back in 1988, just before coming to Edinburgh to read dentistry. A lot of my friends at the time were taking gap years and they were travelling and having these amazing adventures. In the late 1980s interrailing around Europe was the big thing that most people did but unfortunately I didn’t. I got caught up in thinking of jobs and the future and whether potential employers at the time would look at that favourably. If only I could go back in time and tell my younger self to just do it, meet friends, see different cultures, not worry about university or my future career. I think it’s the one time where society allows young people to explore and I suppose within reason find themselves. So my one regret is I’ve found over the last 30 years that career and employment generally take care of themselves and taking that one year out to scan the horizon is nothing when you compare it to a lifetime of employment.

MS: And can you share your one hope for the future?

AS: Well my one hope is dental actually and I would really hope for more people to realise the importance of taking care of their teeth and particularly their gum health really. There are so many statistics out there that show that pretty much only half of adults visit their dentist and again, other studies that show that some degree of gum infection or inflammation affects from 50 to 90 per cent of the adult population so out of that group we have got a really small number – 10 per cent – who are really susceptible to really severe gum problems. That’s the sort of gum problem that destroys the bone and the tissues of the teeth. The terrible thing is that it not only affects the teeth but can also lead to other problems like strokes, diabetes and heart disorders and all of that is preventable if it’s recognised early enough.