Award nomination for pioneering Fife dentist

Dental Specialist Barry Corkey who has been nominated for an award by his colleagues. (Pic by George McLuskie)
Dental Specialist Barry Corkey who has been nominated for an award by his colleagues. (Pic by George McLuskie)

A Kirkcaldy dentist has been nominated for a national award for his work with young children across Fife.

Barry Corkey (53) is a specialist in paediatric dentistry for NHS Fife and works primarily with young children with additional needs.

And it’s his hard work and dedication that led his colleagues to nominate him as Dentist of the Year at this year’s Scottish Health Awards.

Barry said: “For me it’s about what we do in Fife as a service and if this means we get some positive recognition then that’s a good thing.”

His work with children starts right at the beginning – helping babies who are tongue-tied and unable to breastfeed by cutting tissue under the tongue.

“There aren’t that many dentists who would do that procedure, and there are huge chunks of the country where the health board won’t do it.

“It’s a shame because we want mothers to breastfeed their babies and there are huge benefits to that, so this procedure will allow them to feed.

“It’s very important so we will try and see the babies within a day or two of being contacted.

“Parents come in very anxious about it but it’s not a big deal, it’s a very simple procedure.

“They don’t need any anaesthetic of any sort – babies who are sleeping tend not to even wake up when I do it!”

Barry’s work extends to school age children also, many of whom have a fear of seeing a dentist so his aim is to put them at ease.

“There are children who are really severely anxious. Often they are also autistic or maybe there are other things going on in their lives – they may come from a deprived background or have serious health issues – so the idea of coming into a dental practice or a hospital is a huge thing.

“So what I sometimes do is to go and see them at home first, or I’ll go and see them at school.

“It’s best seeing them in a place where they feel happy and familiar – they’ll maybe have a classroom assistant with them – so I can begin by seeing them there and we work towards getting them to see us for some treatment.”

Barry and his team at the Victoria Hospital will carry out work that a regular dentist is unable to do.

“We’re here to see children who can’t have their treatment at their local dentist.

“They may be ADHD, have behaviour issues, or they are disabled or very ill. We see children with significant heart problems. Their treatment may be complicated so we see those that a normal dentist would maybe not be too happy to do. Some may have to come into hospital or be sedated in some way, so if I see them beforehand it seems to help.

“And I need to have a wee look at them anyway to see if it justifies bringing them and maybe putting them under during treatment.

“It can be a traumatic experience for them so meeting beforehand it benefits both of us.”

Based at the Vic, as well as working at Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline, Barry is also a senior lecturer at the Dental Hospital in Edinburgh.

“We work closely with all dentists across Fife so they will refer children to us and sometimes we will see patients together or I may send them back to their own dentist for some things.

“I give advice to dentists and share ideas with them, I teach courses and do some training for dentists across Scotland, so my job varies a lot.”

Barry has also carried out work to try and restrict the use of a general anaesthetic where possible and has employed neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques and hypnotherapy as an alternative.

He said: “We use a general anaesthetic an awful lot less than we did years ago.

“We can treat children by spending a lot of time with them and building up their confidence and co-operation. We try very hard to avoid anaesthetic if we can.

“Yes, we still do it every week in Fife, some children can be severely disabled and will always need it for treatment, but we do very well.

“It’s just about how we communicate with children in a positive way so that hopefully we can build up a rapport and gain the trust of the child.

“It’s not formal hypnosis, but I do use language and techniques that I’ve learned as a way of helping them to relax and feel more confident about receiving treatment.

“I’ve done lots of courses in NLP and do training for other people in those sort of things.

“What makes it rewarding for me is those children who find it impossible to let us come anywhere near them, to then see them coming regularly to have treatment is great. And hopefully it’s become a lifelong thing.

“If we put in a lot of time and effort for a child so that they can attend regularly and have good treatment and cope, that’s fantastic.

“We sometimes see adults who haven’t seen a dentist for 30 years and have gone through terrible pain or a re embarrassed about how their teeth look, but just can’t get there for fear, so we have a service for them too.”

The Dental Unit at Kirkcaldy prides itself on seeing patients quicker than almost anywhere else in the country.

“We have a very flexible service where we see children quicker than anywhere else in Scotland who do need work done,” Barry said. “It’s very important.

“If it’s a two-year-old child, who is in pain and can’t eat or sleep, we’ll see them within days and get it sorted. It’s my understanding that in other health boards it can take many months.

“We work hard at doing it in this way.

‘‘And almost no children in Fife need to travel to the dental hospital in Edinburgh. We can do almost everything in Fife which I’m very pleased about.”

As for his award nomination, Barry said he is “very surprised but very pleased”, but stresses that his job is just one part of an overall team effort.

“There is a great group of people here working very hard with very vulnerable children and if they do get some recognition then that’s fantastic, because we do things very well here in Fife.”