Guest Column with Mike Morgan

November 10 / 48

Professor Mike Morgan has had a long career in dental education and research. He holds the Colgate Chair of Population Oral Health at the Melbourne Dental School at University, where he is Deputy Head of School. His teaching responsibilities cover aspects of Dental Public Health. His research interests include oral health informatics and clinical trials of dental caries preventive agents. He provides clinical services at a community health service in metropolitan Melbourne and is a member of the Dental Practice Board of Victoria, and is the Principal Oral Health Advisor to Dental Health Services Victoria. Mike is also a keen, if not particularly proficient, scuba diver.

As with names, some occupations seem, with regular monotony, to keep recurring throughout families. While there doesn’t appear to be a repetitive name in my family tree, dentistry, or an association with dentistry is a common theme.

It began with my maternal grandfather in New Zealand. Charles Small was initially apprenticed (certificated) to a rural dentist during or just prior to the First World War. At the time, this was the only pathway available for registration as a dentist in New Zealand. Charles subsequently enrolled in a BDS (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) degree course at the newly established Otago Dental School at the University of Otago in Dunedin completing his degree in 1919. Family history doesn’t record exactly what drove him to take the degree, when holding a Dental Certificate was quite an acceptable registrable qualification. Even until the late 1970s a number of certificated dentists were still legally practising dentistry in New Zealand.

Immediately on graduation from Otago, Charles and his new bride Doris (known to her family as Dossie), sailed to Britain to live at the Australian and New Zealand army camp based on Salisbury Plain. There, with several other Australasian dentists, Charles helped in the rehabilitation and facial reconstruction of war-mutilated New Zealand soldiers prior to their much delayed but long anticipated return to their distant home country.

During this time in Britain a son Lawrence (Larry), was born. The dental lineage continued. Larry graduated in 1945 from the same dental school as his father, coincidentally immediately following the end of the Second World War. A daughter (my mother, Rosemary), was born in 1922. Rosemary completed her training at the Wellington School for New Zealand School Dental Nurses also in 1945. This training represented an innovation in the provision of dental care and has been much copied throughout the world. Its descendant exists today in such programs as the Bachelor of Oral Health (BOH) here at the University. Rosemary married Owen, my father, in 1946 having celebrated their engagement on D-Day, 1945.

The dental connection remained, but with an added dimension. On returning from the war, Owen took over and developed his father’s dental amalgam and gold business which continued until his death in 2003. The Dominion Gold Supply produced dental materials both for New Zealand use and for export around the world. In 1979, I completed my undergraduate dental education at the same Otago School my grandfather and uncle had attended. On graduation, I married Eryn, who finished dentistry one year later. Together we may represent the last in the line of dental affiliates – the connection will, at the very least, skip a generation. Neither of our children demonstrates the slightest interest in following the ‘official’ family business and have followed their own careers without heed to dynastic tradition. History will report future developments.

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