I&I Interview: Alan Burgin


Alan Burgin graduated from Cardiff University in 2012. He was thrown in at the deep end working as a maxillofacial SHO in his first year of practising dentistry, but he survived and has gone on to great things.  

He gained a Masters in Dental Implantology in 2018, is an associate dentist in a private practice and was named Best Young Dentist (South West) in 2019. His dentistry-focused Instagram page has over 10,000 followers.  

I talked to Alan about moving from student to dentist, the lessons he’s learned along the way and he shares his advice about using social media, finding a mentor and achieving your goals… 

You graduated almost 10 years ago, how did you find the transition from student to dentist? 

It went quite differently to most people!  

The year that I graduated was the first time that the DF1 applications were done online. I submitted my form along with my fellow graduates while I was on a placement, but when everyone else got their interview dates, I didn’t. 

I contacted them and was told that they could see I had filled in my details but for some reason the form hadn’t come through to them as submitted.  

That was a real heart-sinking moment.  

Without doing my DF1, I couldn’t get a performer number which meant I couldn’t get a job in an NHS practice.  

The only job I could get was in a maxillofacial department in Newport, and fortunately I happened to have a placement at that department coming up. I applied for the job, not expecting to get it, as there were lots of more experienced people applying – but, I did! 

So, my first 12 months after university were spent doing maxillofacial surgery in hospital. It was definitely a baptism of fire! 

How did the expectation of being a dentist match up to the reality? 

After the year in hospital, I moved to an NHS practice in the Rhonnda Valley, which is what I should have done when I first graduated! 

At that stage in your career, it can be daunting to suddenly have to provide fee paying patients with the best care in the world.  

The Rhondda Valley was a high needs area with extremely appreciative patients. It was a brilliant experience and because of my time doing maxillofacial surgery, I really wasn’t worried about going into the NHS practice. I was quite happy to get back to check-ups and daily dentistry plus, because of my experience at the hospital, I felt I could really contribute to the team rather than being the new boy. 

Plus, my boss was incredibly approachable and very open to answering any questions, which was really helpful and I definitely made the most of his knowledge. 

What’s the biggest non-clinical lesson you’ve learned during that time? 

I’ve found that for some patients you may not be the right dentist for them, for whatever reason. And, more recently I’ve been in private practice and doing bigger more complex cases, which means you’ll be seeing the same patient over a long time so you need to make sure you’re on the same page.  

I’ve learned that if you know that you and your patient are not right for each other, it’s better to nip that in the bud early rather than halfway through a long treatment plan.  

Now, I will break down a treatment plan into stages. The first one is stabilising the mouth, which is what the patient needs, followed by definitive treatment, which is what the patient wants.  

If you have a patient who misses lots of appointments or has been difficult to deal with during the stabilisation phase, at the end of that it’s best to say ‘your mouth is now healthy, I think you will be better off with another dentist for the next stage’. 

When you and your patient aren’t a good fit, that’s generally the best approach for everyone – and it’s a massive stress reliever for you as the dentist.  

I’m a big believer in trying to enjoy your work and I really enjoy my dentistry. Having the confidence to tell people they’re better off with another dentist is a good way to end up with a list of patients who really align with your work ethic and personality. 

What are your thoughts on the importance of building relationships with patients and do you have any advice about how to do that successfully? 

Being able to take your time and understanding where your patients are coming from is probably the most important.  

I seem to attract a lot of anxious patients to my surgery and sometimes they can seem abrupt or rude. But when you understand that they’re actually just nervous, their behaviour makes more sense and you can adapt the way you respond to make sure they have a better experience. 

Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of time depending on the system that they’re working in. Since I started working in private practice, my new patient assessment is 45 minutes and I take a full set of photos of their teeth. 

During the assessment I sit side by side with the patient and we look through the photos and the x-rays on the computer; it’s a good opportunity to show them what’s happening in their mouth.  It’s also easier, compared to just talking about it or them using a mirror, for them to communicate exactly what they feel their problem is and for you to go through how you can treat the issue.   

Being honest with patients is important. People talk about selling in dentistry and I’m just not good at that, so I’m just honest with them about what the treatment plan is and explain why we’re doing it that way. 

Everyone hopes they won’t ever have an unhappy patient but it’s almost inevitable in any profession where you’re providing a service. What’s your advice on how to prepare for this and deal with it when it happens? 

The best thing you can do to prepare is just expect that you will get a complaint at some point, and don’t beat yourself up when you do. 

I’ve experienced it several times and if you can look back and say ‘I did my absolute best treatment’, then you can be confident that if someone else looks at your work, they will see that you did a good job.  

The second thing you can do is put yourself in the patient’s shoes and remember that they’re just human. It depends on the nature of the complaint, but sometimes just contacting them and inviting them in for a chat to see how you can resolve the issue, is a good solution.  

Sometimes you just need to say sorry and offer to refund the treatment. And it’s always worthwhile contacting your indemnity provider before anything escalates, they can help you craft a letter to the patient if necessary. 

You have over 10,000 followers on social media, how did you build your profile and how do you think it can help to build your career? 

I’ve always taken lots of photos of my work in order to build a portfolio and move into private practice. When I started working in private practice, I carried on taking photos but I didn’t really need a portfolio anymore so I set up an Instagram page.  

Taking the photos and sharing them via social media helps me to keep my work to a high standard, it’s a way of holding myself accountable. People started liking and commenting on them and I realised there were lots of dentists looking at my work which has been a huge driver to keep improving. 

The goal was never to grow an Instagram page, it was just to hold myself accountable to my own level of work and share knowledge with other dentists.  

Social media is a great tool, but it can have pitfalls – do you have any advice about how to use it responsibly? 

A key thing is getting consent from your patients if you’re sharing photos of them. We take photos of every single patient when they attend their first appointment and as part of that they can check a box that says we’re allowed to use the photos on social media.  

Even if they have checked ‘no’, once treatment is over and it’s a case I want to share, I ask them again and 99% say yes.  

It also depends what the draw of your social media page is going to be. I originally didn’t have my name or my photo on my page because it’s not about me or my personality, it’s just about sharing the work that I’ve done. 

Some dentists do share more of their personality on their pages and that’s a good way for patients to get to know you. However, it can also open you up to be more of a target for negative comments or trolls. It’s worth considering how much of you do you want to share on your page.  

For those who are just at the start of their career in dentistry, can you share your top three tips for how to achieve their goals? 

Tip number one: People are really keen to move forwards in their career very quickly – maybe because a dental degree is longer than most others. Almost as soon as they leave university, they’re thinking what’s my progression to my specialism? What do I need to check off to get there? But you don’t know what you can do until you get out into the real world, so don’t pigeon-hole yourself too early in your career. Give yourself a chance to explore what you can do and what you enjoy doing.  
Tip number two: Have incremental goals. Whatever your big goal is, break it down into smaller achievable goals. It’s more motivating to tick off smaller goals en-route to a big one, than to try and achieve your big goal in an unrealistic timeframe and not reach it.  
Tip number three: Find a mentor, but look beyond the traditional idea of what a mentor is. It doesn’t need to be someone world-renowned that you work with every day…that’s fairly unrealistic for most of us! 

Find someone you can connect with and learn from, and reach out to them. I did a dentures course with Finlay Sutton, who’s probably the best in the world at dentures, and sometimes I send him photos of cases and we’ll discuss it. I now consider him a mentor. 

You can find people online, via social media or someone in your own practice. For example, if you work in a busy NHS practice you might find someone who’s great at working really efficiently and you can learn from them. It might be just a little pearl of wisdom or become more of a relationship – either way you’ll learn something which is always a win. 

Whether you’re just starting out in your dental career or are already experienced, finding the right dental indemnity policy for you is vital, not just for legal protection but also for real peace of mind. 

You can compare dental indemnity policies, quickly and easily – and for free here.

By Insurance & Indemnity