50-year reflections

After half a century as an ADAWA member, we spoke to Dr Ken Watts about his career.

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Ken Watts decided to pursue dentistry due to the father of a good friend of his being a dentist. He also thought the working hours
of a dentist would be more controlled than that of a doctor.

He started studying dentistry at UWA in 1968 and finished at the end of 1972. “During my time as a student I had received a cadetship from the government – they paid my university fees and then when I finished, I was bonded to work for the government initially,” Ken recalls. “In 1973 I started working for the government and went rural. In my case I went to several rural towns in the dental caravan. I was it – there were no nurses or help – just me. I went to places including Dalwallinu, Jurien Bay, Meekatharra, Wiluna and Yalgoo – carting the van around for about five months. I was then posted up to Wickham, which is near Karratha, and was there for most of the winter of 1973, before working a short stint back at Dalwallinu. “The disadvantage of working on your own for such a brief time in each place was that you were restricted to mainly emergency dental treatment,” he explains. “A lot of things I had learned in school like crown and bridge and restorations were not possible because I wasn’t in any one place for very long.”

When he came back to Perth at the end of that year, he had a review and when asked what he would like to do, requested to be in one spot for a while (preferably coastal due to his love of the ocean).

“I went away for a holiday for a week and received a letter saying the next year I was to be in the caravan again, heading out along the Nullarbor,” he says. “That wasn’t quite what I hoped for, so I resigned from the government, and had to pay back the cadetship amount.” Ken then started working locums in Perth, including at Park Towers at the practice of Dudley Baker and associates – it was the start of a long career in the CBD.

“Long story short, I liked it there and I was offered a position, so I started working in Park Towers with four other dentists – and we were there until about 1990,” he recalls. “Then because we had leasing issues the practice split and three of us went across the road further up Hay St. I was there until I retired in 2019.”

Significant changes

Over nearly half a century as a working dentist, Ken saw some significant changes, particularly in relation to infection control. “We went from just washing our hands and then treating people to wearing masks and gloves,” Ken says. “We would cold sterilise instruments and wipe them over between patients – getting used to those changes was dramatic. “In those days we still used mainly amalgam and early composite resins,” he adds. “Crown and bridge was done with impressions – there was no taking a digital scan of the teeth.”


Ken says throughout his career he was able to work with some wonderful people – both fellow staff and patients.

“I worked with some very good mentors and extremely good operators,” he says. “Laurie Baker and John Italiano were very fine operators, not only for their ethics but their skills as dentists. They were great people to learn from.

“I have also met some very interesting people and that led to some unusual and interesting things,” he adds. “At one stage I was treating the then current Governor and his wife. We ended up with an invitation to Government House Ballroom for a function. That was pure chance, not from anything wonderful I did.

“We also had some wonderful friendships with patients we got to know, and with technicians.”

After such a long time in the same practice, Ken says he was privileged to treat generations of patients. “I was very grateful that parents would refer their children, so I must have done something right as they kept coming even though we were in the city and a number of patients didn’t live nearby. It was very good that they made the trek.”

When asked about his ADAWA membership, Ken says it has always been good to go to different courses for CPD and to have a comradery with colleagues. “Fortunately, I haven’t needed ADA for anything particularly supportive, but it has always been a good lot of people to know,” he says.


Ken says his journey to retirement was a long exercise. “I was working happily away and not really considering retirement and then one of the younger dentists who was working a locum for one of my associates offered to buy the practice at Mi Dental,” Ken says. “By that stage I was nowhere near ready to retire. Amit Gurbuxani was lecturing part time at university at that stage, and he asked if I would come back, because he couldn’t keep the lecturing going and run the practice. As a result, I was invited back to do a locum in what was my practice and in some ways that was the best part, because all I had to do was concentrate on doing the dentistry. I already knew the staff and patients. It has been great knowing my patients have been looked after so well by Amit since my retirement.”

For future plans, Ken says he hopes to do some travel and more sailing adventures.

Sound advice

When asked if he has any advice for a young dentist beginning their career, Ken says things have changed drastically from when he started out. “However, I still think the main thing you need to do is build trust with your patients and do that by combining two things,” he says.

Number 1: You must treat them very ethically. You don’t just treat them to get money. You treat them for their benefit, not yours. That is the most important thing.

Number 2:  Make sure you absolutely give them the best possible treatment that you can do and that they can afford – and if you cannot provide it, then you need to
refer to others.

“Dentistry can at times be demanding but equally satisfying,” he adds. “Seeing the reaction of patients without discomfort with an aesthetically and functionally pleasing result is in itself a great reward.”

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