Thinking aloud: Mark Hughes


Mark Hughes, founder and director of Harley Street Dental Studio, on the joys of medicine

Root canals, fillings, implants, cosmetic veneers—I’ve had it all. Like a lot of people of my generation, who weren’t particularly well educated about dental care, I ate a lot of sweets and drank a lot of Coke.

In our society, we possibly look down on the desire to make our teeth look better. But the paradigm is changing. Social media’s come along, and people are increasingly concerned about how they look. Your smile and your teeth have a large influence on how you’re viewed— how attractive you might be to other people, but also how healthy.

A lot of dentists, for want of a better description, are a bit OCD—we deal with micro-millimetres, so it helps to be a bit of a perfectionist. Dentists tend to be independent, quick on their feet, problem-solvers. They can also be quite opinionated and forthright, particularly when it comes to treatment for their patients.

I am hugely rewarded by what I do. The sense of satisfaction when somebody who’s been in pain, or embarrassed about their teeth, leaves full of confidence is incredible. We see tears of joy and relief. That’s very special.

We do get some unusual cases. A classic example is people opening beer bottles with their teeth; we deal with that kind of thing a lot. One patient raced another guy up a flag pole at university, but it was old and wooden and it broke. He tumbled 20 feet, landed on his face and lost his four front teeth. He’s lucky to be alive! He was very embarrassed.

You must floss—or use something to clean between your teeth. You’re only cleaning 60 per cent of your teeth if you’re just brushing.

Being a dad is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I have two small children, one who’s almost three and one who’s 10 weeks old. A lot of my spare time is focused on family life. Having lived here for 25 years, we recently moved out of London and we have a dog, so there are lots of walks in the countryside.

I did a bit of screenwriting—nothing’s made it to the movie screen yet, but it’s a hobby. I like clay pigeon shooting, I have an interest in cars, wine, food and travel. Photography is a passion. But it’s finding the time to do all these things.

Going to the dentist can be a nerve-wracking experience. Having surgery in your mouth while you’re awake is quite invasive, so it’s not surprising it frightens people. A lot of patients are very nervous, have high demands, there’s a time pressure and things don’t always go to plan. It can be a stressful job, but it’s all part of what we do.

There’s still a huge lack of clarity about what underpins dental health. Everybody thinks ‘if I brush my teeth, I won’t get cavities’. Actually, it’s about your diet and reducing your sugar intake. They are both equally important: brushing looks after your gums; your diet affects your teeth.