Women in healthcare: Meet dentist Lauren Harrhy
October 23, 2018
Lauren Harrhy is part dentist and part businesswoman.
She has been working in dentistry for almost 10 years and has predominately been based in Wales throughout her career.
Ms Harrhy first developed an interest in dentistry when she considered a profession that could combine her talents and interests.
“When I was young I had a passion for art as well as a keen interest in science. When you combine both interests with an affinity for helping people then dentistry is an obvious choice,” she said.
After qualifying at Cardiff Dental School, Ms Harrhy began her career in 2009 where she completed her foundation year at an independent dental practice in Brecon.
She now runs her own dental practice in Newport.
“After gaining experience as an associate dentist in several practices, I decided to buy my own practice,” she said.
“The principal dentist at the practice I was working in had decided to retire and wanted someone he could trust to take over the care of his patients. It seemed a natural progression that I would purchase the practice and become the principal.”
A varied vocation
One of the most important lessons Ms Harrhy has learned in her shift from working as a graduate dentist to becoming more senior is looking after the wellbeing of herself and her co-workers.
“I have learned the value in taking some time off and cultivating a fulfilling life outside of dentistry, as well as trying to keep active within the profession and maintaining an enthusiasm for improving the wellbeing of my colleagues,” she said.
Ms Harrhy has also learned about the importance of communication skills in her profession.
“It is essential to have excellent communication skills so that one may consent patients correctly, explaining to them their conditions and the possible treatment options,” she said.
“Many people are very scared of having dental treatment so being able to put them at ease is essential.”
In running her own practice, she has also acknowledged the value of business skills.
“It is useful to have a good head for business. Dentistry is fairly unique in that, as well as being a clinician and acting for the patient’s health, we are often also employers and head of a team. We also need to ensure that the practice turns a profit so that it is able to stay open and treat our patients,” she said.
Taking a collaborative approach
At times, dentistry can feel like a lonely profession, admits Ms Harrhy. But she combats this by taking a collaborative approach – developing close relationships with her nurses and colleagues helps, as does networking with healthcare professionals outside of her practice.
“Skill mix is becoming increasingly important in dentistry so fostering a collaborative spirit is a great way to take pressure off and make your working day more productive and enjoyable,” she said.
Throughout her career, Ms Harrhy said she has seen a shift towards an increased skill mix within dentistry.
“Therapists, hygienists, and even dental nurses are taking a greater role in patients’ dental care. Dentists are often treating the complex cases and delegating simpler treatments to other members of the team,” she said.
Part of Ms Harrhy’s work outside her practice includes filling the role of vice chair on the British Dental Association’s (BDA) Young Dentist Committee.
Her role ensures that young dentists have a voice and that the BDA and wider dental community are informed of the issues important to them.
She’s also a member of the BDA’s General Dental Practice Committee, and vice chair of the Welsh General Dental Practice Committee and Welsh Dental Council.
“I get to meet a wide range of colleagues and hear about all of the issues that affect our profession. I set up a Facebook group to support dentists struggling with their mental health last year – we have over 5000 members and I find that having the BDA as an organisation towards which I can signpost those having issues has been of great value,” Ms Harrhy said.
Looking to the future
Ms Harrhy said one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS, besides closing the gap in oral health inequalities, is managing the dentition of older people, who are bearing the burden of dental decay that developed more than 50 years ago.
“This is the generation that missed out on the benefits of fluoride toothpaste in the first decades of life, since such toothpaste only became available in the UK in the 1970s. As a consequence, they have heavily restored teeth (decayed, filled, crowned or missing teeth) and maintaining those through life, where possible, is challenging,” she said.
“This doesn’t require a high-tech solution, but awareness of the need to adhere to a good oral hygiene routine and restricting sugar consumption to meal times is essential.
“On the other side of the age spectrum, we know that well-funded national targeted schemes, such as Childsmile (Scotland) and Designed to Smile (Wales) programmes, are making inroads into reducing the prevalence of dental disease in future generations.”
Ms Harrhy’s hope for the future of dentistry is to see more patients take responsibility for their own dental health. She believes education is key.
“There are several great schemes that help to teach young children about oral health in school. These have shown excellent improvements in oral health outcomes over the time that they have been running,” she said.