Colin Hall-Dexter, R.I.P.

Colin Hall-Dexter, whose death has just been announced at the age of 84, was one of the finest dentists and teachers I met in my career. Not for his clinical skills which were excellent, not for his qualifications which were BDS, LDSRCS the basic ones needed to practice dentistry and certainly not for seeking high political office, although his career was marked by honours from BDA & BDHF, amongst others.

Colin’s skills were those of a communicator and of one who provides space and support for the recipient to motivate themselves. I met him on only a handful of occasions the most valuable being when Susan (my hygienist, now my wife) and I were participants in his course, “Private Practice: How and Why” held in his practice in May 1990.

That weekend took place immediately before Susan joined me in my practice in Gloucester and it marked the transformation of the practice from “we wish” to “we can”. The change to private practice took another couple of years but Colin’s philosophy of prevention, of knowing and educating your patient and above all of striving for excellence in every aspect of your professional and personal life provided something to which we could aspire from Monday 14th May 1990.

That several generations of dentists were similarly inspired and influenced by his teachings is testament to his influence. The tributes paid to him on GDP-UK show that it wasn’t just a handful of us who felt the way we did.

Colin’s own story of how he transformed his NHS practice in Tooting to a private practice following his lunchtime conversations with George Hamerschmidt, his brother-in-law, was a revelation. He moved to Harley Street so that he could prove to himself that, using his philosophy, he could compete in that area. The Colin & George tag-team went out on the road, extolling the benefits of preventive practice, marketing and ethical selling, to groups of dentist throughout the country. The latter part, ethical selling, brought him into conflict with the GDC who, as much out of touch with the real world of dentistry then as they are now, did not approve of such blatant commercialism.

His fundamental belief, that he shared with whoever would listen, was that there was no point in doing what he termed “trinket dentistry” unless the fundamentals had been achieved. This can be summed up as ensuring that the patient understood what it would take to control the diseases in their mouths so that the work that he provided would last as long as possible.

The way that he worked with a hygienist was an inspiration to hygienists and dentists alike. We adopted immediately the “hygiene led recall” which meant that hygiene was placed at the heart of the practice and meant that for many patients a visit to my chair was a rarity and the cycle of restorations was broken.

Not everyone agreed with his approach, but I think it’s relevant that for those who did the usual result was a successful practice with stable, grateful patients.

The profession and, above all, patients owe a lot to Colin.

Rest In Peace.

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4 Responses

  1. I did the same course in September 1988. still practice those principles , together with the ethos of the MGDS .
    Its remarkable that one cohort of dentists have seen the light , yet the appalling NHS Dentistry and rise of the Corporates has gone in a downhill direction

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  2. I greatly enjoyed Alun Rees’s generous obituary of my old friend Colin Dexter. Colin and I had a wonderful time planning our campaign, running courses & talking to many dentists and persuading large numbers of them that they didn’t have to drown in the NHS but could take steps to change their approach to their practices and to embrace the only sort of dentistry worth doing: preventive dentistry.

    I need to correct a small error: Colin and I were not brothers in law, just very close friends.

    George Hammerschmidt

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  3. […] was reading this book when the sad news of the death of Colin Hall Dexter reached me. Never could such an apt tribute have been written to Colin and his philosophy of […]

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