50-year reflections

After half a decade as an ADAWA member, we spoke to Dr Michael Poli about his career.

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Dr Michael Poli says he and brother (and fellow dentist) Anthony initially wanted to study medicine. “However, being in the UK and under the famous NHS, Dad (a GP), said: ‘Don’t do medicine, do dentistry – 9 to 5, no home visits, no emergencies, no out of hours work’,” he recalls. “It was usual for him to have to see up to 60 patients in the morning, then house calls in the afternoon and then back for the evening session. He said that most of the time he would be writing out the scripts for the patient as they were walking into the room. He felt he was just a glorified clerk, not medicine at all. It was the main reason we moved to Australia.” Michael took his father’s advice and studied dentistry – and has always been an active and engaged member of the dental community.

Michael was one of the dentists who set up the South West Dental Convocation, after he and the late Dr John Mathieson (Matho) started talking about the possibility of getting one or two specialists down to Bunbury to give a lecture.

“I think at the time there were five of us (not a big audience),” Mike recalls. “However, I was allotted the job of asking the specialists, because I was able to successfully coax them down to Bunbury and the others made me the chairman. “

“We did speak with ADA about our scheme and at the time they preferred us to use the name that it now bears,” he says, adding that as more dentists came to practice in Bunbury, they expanded their thinking. “We decided that we had better do more for the lecturers than a bottle of wine.”

“Fees had to be considered for venue hire and reimbursement for the lecturers’ time and expenses. So, we arranged overnight accommodation for them and fed them
and still managed to present them with a bottle of two of the famed Margaret River wines. After a few years of ‘one-night
stands’ and having attended several weekend conferences I put forward the
idea of running a similar event.”  

Michael also served as the ADAWA Country Councillor for a number of years. “Kim Mezger was executive officer at the time and  I was almost always attending the General Meetings, coming up from Bunbury,” he says.

“He put me forward to be nominated for Country Councillor and I decided that it would be a great way to learn how ADAWA worked and what it did. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the insights I gleaned.

"When Brian Atkinson was the President, I had to help organise a country weekend conference in Bunbury with Dr Jim Ironside as the guest lecturer. That was a steep learning curve, but great experience. I was also involved in the initial liaison with the Dental Nursing Australia training organisation, founded by Sue Lawton.”


“Highlights of my career would have to be being able to associate with so many great specialists, who are always so helpful and other dentists that I was able to talk with at lectures/conferences and exchange experiences,” Michael says.

There were also some memorable days in clinic. “Whilst in my second year of graduation, working for DHS in Paraburdoo, a frantic father on a Saturday afternoon, came to my house with his five-year-old child with a 10cm long chair spring – the hooked end of which was firmly caught between his upper centrals,” Michael recalls. “The father had not been able to remove it and was quite desperate. I took them to the surgery in the new hospital and successfully removed it without any trauma to the child. That was such an amazing realisation – being able to help people. Similarly, being able to use Relative Analgesia – I converted a lot of absolute dental phobics into normal fearless dental patients. That was so rewarding.
“Another highlight was the many years I spent as Dr Ian Rosenberg’s assistant each week for the whole of each Thursday – learning so much from him and getting to know Evan Kakulas doing the same thing in Perth. “I was (also) so very proud of my brother Tony when he became ADAWA President a few years ago,” he adds.


“The biggest changes that I have perceived are the almost total rejection of amalgam as a restorative material, one which has served the patients so well for so many years,” he says.  “Another would be the more predictable use of implants in the right hands – and another really exciting one is the 3D printing of titanium for replacement of destroyed parts of the skeleton.”

After all these years, Michael says he gets a real sense of achievement by being able to relieve pain and restore function.
ADAWA has also always been supportive along the way, with Michael choosing to keep his ADAWA membership even after moving interstate. ‘It is amazing to be part of a group that sticks together so well,” he says. “I have been over in Canberra since 2011 and I stayed an ADAWA member because I was so impressed the way the ADAWA functioned.

“On the occasion I have had to seek advice, either the office, CEO or President have been so easy to talk to, discuss the issues and help find a solution.”

What’s next for Michael?

“At present, I am working full-time in Defence and will eventually cut down to four days, then three days and then retired, but as to the timeframe – I don’t really have one,” he says. “My father was still in full-time medical General Practice at 80.”

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