Meet Dr Mark Atkinson, specialist oral surgeon at the Sydney Specialist Dental Group in St Peters. Dr Atkinson moved to Sydney from Queensland upon graduation from the Royal Australian Airforce. He is passionate about helping patients improve their quality of life, as well as reducing the post-operative recovery period.
Find out more about Dr Atkinson’s approach to oral surgery, and his love of travel, below.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born and raised in Brisbane but made the move down to Sydney about 9 years ago (my maroon blood is slowly fading). I did my undergraduate training in my hometown at the University of Queensland, but I have always been one for adventure, so I applied for a scholarship with the Royal Australian Air Force while studying. I was successful and after graduation I was posted down to Sydney and served as a Flight Lieutenant Dental Officer for the first few years of my career. This was a great opportunity for personal development and helped me develop other skills to complement those of dentistry. Surgery was always my favourite discipline, and upon leaving the Air Force I pursued my specialty training to become an oral surgeon.
Have you always wanted to be a dentist?
I decided I wanted to be a dentist when I was 16. It’s a profession that many would say, ‘why?’, but to me so much of our lives revolve around our mouths: conversation, food, a smile – the enjoyments in life. The oral environment is also connected to the rest of the body, so systemic health issues affect the mouth, and oral health can influence systemic disease. Working with patients to improve their quality of life is important to me, particularly in relief of pain.
Is there an area of oral surgery that interests you in particular?
Surgery in the mouth and jaws can range from something very simple like a tooth extraction or biopsy to much larger procedures like removal of deeply impacted wisdom teeth or bone grafting to make the mouth suitable for implant restoration. My goal is to always minimise the post-operative recovery period for my patients whether the procedure be small or more complex. I pride myself on always being honest with my patients and approaching my daily practice in the most evidence-based way.
What is the best thing about your job?
It takes about 10 years to become a specialist in dentistry. But the end goal means that each day I am involved in challenging cases, keeping me constantly engaged with my profession. Dentists entrust their patients to me for the more complex care. It is this trust, from my peers and my patients, which I value dearly. Dental surgeons work in different clinical environments – private practice, public hospital and university teaching. It means each week there is variety and we get to meet patients from all different backgrounds and walks of life.
How do you approach a nervous patient?
It is completely normal to have some nerves when it comes to having surgery, especially in the mouth. If a patient is anxious, I like to have a consultation first and talk through their concerns. Many horror stories or myths that may be playing on a patient’s mind do not reflect reality. There are also other options available for an anxious patient, such as carrying out the treatment under general anesthetic in a hospital, using sedation, or even breaking up the treatment into smaller procedures over a few appointments.
What has been something positive for you during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It has been really inspiring to see the majority of Australians accepting the situation and doing their best for us all to get through it together. Selfishness isn’t really an Australian trait and I think that is why we have gotten through this relatively unscathed.
When you are not working, what do you do in your spare time?
Travel is something I have a great passion for. I’ve been lucky enough to backpack around most of the globe, hiking to some amazing sites and also engaging with communities doing volunteer work. COVID has restricted my travel plans so I am now trying my hand at some photography and trying to master a recently purchased ukulele.
What or who has inspired you most recently?
The novel I have been reading the past few weekends on the beach is Walking the Americas by Levison Wood. The author hikes from Mexico across Central America through one of the most inhospitable places on earth, The Darien Gap. This quote from the book highlights how I am trying to adjust my mindset after a couple of challenging years “[I am] not a huge fan of straight roads. They’re bad for morale if you can see too far ahead. It means you know how far there is left to walk, and sometimes ignorance is bliss.”
Sydney Specialist Dental Group, 60-82 Princes Highway, St Peters, ssdg.com.au