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Dental politics: What starting from nothing shows us

​Representation at a local level can have a huge impact on you and your profession.

Carly Fraser
Carly Fraser Associate Dentist, North Scotland BDA Committee, Scottish Council

My experience of getting involved in dental politics has really shown me the difference local representation can make. I’ve learned a lot and it’s been tremendous to be part of a fresh push to ensure the voices of dentists in my area are heard and to help provide opportunities for connection, education and community.

Re-establishing representation

The Aberdeen section and the North of Scotland branch had been inactive for quite some time before they were re-established by my predecessor. This meant that for a long time there was no representation for dentists in our area, and dentists here didn’t have the same access to resources that dentists in other areas of the UK enjoyed. I got involved to help out, and it’s since taught me so much about my area of dentistry, introduced me to a huge number of people and given me a keener understanding of the issues facing dentists in Scotland.

Without representation we have no voice and no local opportunities for networking and development.

Now, I’m trying to build on our earlier successes. I have recruited six new committee members and I am proud of what we’ve been able to do together for BDA members so far. Because without representation we have no voice and no local opportunities for networking and development. That’s why, our mission is to provide equal access to learning and connection opportunities and to be a voice for all dentists in our area.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

Connection, education and community

When I first entered the workplace after graduating from Dundee, I experienced first-hand some of the difficulties inexperienced dentists can face in poorly managed practices. I wasn’t paid regularly or in-full or on time, sometimes for up to eight weeks at a time. I realised I needed advice and help, but I didn’t know many people in the industry who were any more experienced than me. This is where the BDA events and committees can help. You meet dentists of all levels and backgrounds, who can help you with their knowledge and experience. Seeing our work help young dentists who are struggling, like I once did, is enormously rewarding.

Seeing our work help young dentists who are struggling is enormously rewarding.

As dentists, we go through dentistry school with a class of 60 people and then suddenly after graduation everyone is somewhat left to their own devices. It can be very isolating. That’s why I am so proud of the large-scale social event I organised for dentists in our area at the end of 2019. It was well attended by dentists with a huge range of experience. This really underlined how important it is to invest in encouraging community and unity amongst our peers and members.

Pushing for change

Being on the Scottish Council has opened my eyes to the huge range of issues that committee and council members grapple with. It can be easy to criticise from the outside when we don’t see the changes you want as quickly as we’d like. On issues ranging from COVID financial support payments to GA waiting lists, a huge amount of work is done by committees to ensure that dentists in all different health boards areas are heard.

Are the concerns of your peers being heard at a national level? I advocate strongly on behalf of the highlands and young dentists on the Scottish Council. Up here, patients typically must travel much longer distances to access care, particularly for specialist appointments. It can also be harder for practices to employ staff. I can offer the perspective of my health board and, being a younger dentist, I can also speak to the impact of policy on students transitioning to VT and young dentists. This way I know that those advocating for us are more fully informed.

It can be easy to criticise from the outside.

You can never be too young or too inexperienced to get involved in dental politics. I was both of those things at the start, but I was made to feel so welcome. Indeed, no matter what your age or level of experience, please consider nominating yourself and/or voting in the upcoming elections. We need fresh perspectives which cover the breadth of dentistry today. When you get involved, you’ll learn so much so fast, and when you see the difference you can make, it’s all worth it.