• Oral Hygiene Magazine

Getting to know you

Nick Coller shares what prompted his change in career from marketing to dental hygiene and reveals the next big thing for dental care professionals.


Tell us about your background I qualified with an MA (Oxon) from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, in French and German. I worked in advertising and marketing consultancy for 10 years before I retrained in dental hygiene and therapy.

Why did you want be a dental hygienist? In actual fact, being a hygienist was the only thing that I ever wanted to do; it just took me a while to be honest enough with myself that I needed to follow my heart. My best friend since school days is a hygienist and I knew how much she loved her job. I shadowed her while I was saving to put myself through the training. The time spent with her proved to me just how much I wanted to change career. While I was working in marketing, I never felt that I was making a real difference. Hygiene allows me to meet and take care of all sorts of people.

How has your previous career helped you? The experience from my previous career has proved invaluable to me as a hygienist. It was a great grounding in professionalism and teamwork. It also involved giving a lot of presentations and public speaking. Communication is at the heart of what we do as DHTs, and I draw on the communication skills I learnt in my previous career on a daily basis.

Do you have any special interests in dentistry? I love working in orthodontics. It requires a unique mix of skills especially when working paediatric patients.


1. Audience Management: You often have multiple audiences in the room to manage– paediatric patient and parent / guardian

2. Communication skills: Both of the groups mentioned above require very different manners of communication. Ultimately you want both parties to feel engaged and encouraged

3. Great clinical skills – probing and cleaning brackets especially lingual appliances is not easy and requires an intricate eye for detail


As an ex heavy smoker, I know just how hard it is to give up. It took me 8 years to finally quit. I tried everything from acupuncture to hypnosis. What eventually worked for me was reading the book by Alan Carr ‘The Easy Way to Give up Smoking’ on the second occasion. In my experience, many people who have never smoked cannot conceive of how a smoker views their relationship with cigarettes or why they would be so defensive even to broach talking about the subject. Although I knew it was making me feel dreadful, cigarettes often felt like my only pleasure. Trying to give up was heavily linked in my mind to cravings that didn’t seem to end and a sense that I was doomed to failure anyway. I am not necessarily saying you need to have smoked to assist and support a quit attempt but I do think that it helps.


Do you have any top tips for treating nervous patients?

It takes time. Trust isn’t built in a one session but the first foundations are laid down from the very beginning of working with a new patient. In my experience, most nervous patients have had a previous negative experience that has made them lose trust with the whole dental profession. Often this experience was not at the hands of a DHT, but patients do not often draw the distinction between different job roles within the dental profession.


Changing my own treatment expectations is key here. My aim is to start to establish trust (and not to simply remove all the deposit). I give myself permission to take things slowly and really work within the patient’s boundaries so that they feel they want to come back for future sessions. I can’t help a patient who doesn’t want to come back to see me. I would also add that team support (including the support of the practice manager and/or owner) is crucial if this approach is to succeed.


Tell us more about your teaching roles As I mentioned, my previous career gave me a wealth of experience in public speaking and presentation giving – and it’s one of the aspects of my work I have been keen to maintain. I try to teach and present to as many different stakeholder groups as possible. While at King’s College London, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to present to trainee dental nurses on oral health instruction techniques. Since leaving, I have been a regular speaker to other dental professionals at CPD events in my practices. I also give oral hygiene talks to the pupils (and sometimes their parents) at a local primary school.

How did you come to write about managing patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis? I have a friend with Crohn’s disease who had to have a number of operations as a result. I was keen to find out more about Crohn’s and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for myself and also increase knowledge about IBD across the profession as a whole. Since a small amount of the population per capita suffers from IBD, many clinicians do not regularly come into contact with patients living with it. Most importantly, many clinicians do not realise that there is an increased prevalence of oral lesions amongst children with IBD. In effect, oral lesions might be the first sign of Crohn’s in particular. Dental professionals are, therefore, on the front line of diagnosis.


Please list five dental products/equipment that you couldn’t practise without

My secret weapon is SR Paste Pro, by Dentofax Research. It is a part of the Sylc range of products. In my experience it removes stain just as well as prophy jet. They also have a product in the range that can be applied to the teeth before treatment as a powerful desensitising agent. The remaining four are:

  1. Loupes

  2. NSK Perio mate

  3. American Eagle Scalers in general but especially the AES204SD XPX microsickle

  4. LM Langer Curette

What does a typical day look like for you?

I know it’s a cliche, but no two days are the same. I work across seven different practices – from south west London to Beckenham – to keep things as varied as possible. To provide even more variety, I work in very different styles of practice – from NHS to specialist.

I have also set up my own facial aesthetics business and am actively pursuing (and loving) this further career avenue, both in practice and on a private basis.

What keeps you awake at night?

The term ‘scale and polish’, which implies a one-off treatment. It also massively undersells our skill set and training. What’s more, I even believe this term keeps us small in the eyes of other healthcare professionals. We have in-depth training and we take our patients’ care seriously. If you come to visit me, you are on an oral hygiene programme, which is tailored to your individual needs. There is no such thing as a one-off visit.

What does the future hold for you, and for dental hygienists?


For me:

I am in the process of getting certified to work as a hygienist in Germany. Over the past few years, hygiene has come into its own in Germany; it has become a highly-respected and sought-after skill in German dentistry. I speak fluent German, so getting certified to work in the country is a no-brainer.


I will also be trying to build on my skill set in facial aesthetics to support my new business.

For the industry:

I think we are at the start of a longer-term goal of extending prescribing rights and exemptions beyond local anaesthetic for two chief reasons:

1. It is looking likely that the NHS is increasingly going to draw on the skill set of therapists in the future. The ability to prescribe medications (like antibiotics) is going to become an important area for us to be able to effectively treat our patients (and to be taken seriously and not just as ‘badly-qualified dentists’ in the eyes of other healthcare professionals)

2. The General Dental Council direct access guidance supports dental hygienists/ therapists performing facial aesthetics procedures. It would help us to fulfil our potential in this area and hold our own in the field if we pursued exemptions for such medications as Botox, antihistamines and Hyalase, which are commonly used in facial aesthetics practice.


Source: Oral Hygiene | Getting to Know You | P.1 - 2 | September 2018

Oral Hygiene | Getting to know you | Sep
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