Farewell to Kirkcaldy dentist after 40 years

Derek and Amy in the surgery. Pics by Fife Photo Agency
Derek and Amy in the surgery. Pics by Fife Photo Agency

After four decades of looking after the teeth of generations of Langtonians, Kirkcaldy dentist Derek Harper has hung up his tunic.

But he has left his patients in the more than capable hands of his daughter Amy who has followed in her dad’s footsteps.

And Derek will continue to use his vast experience by serving on the board of directors of the British Dental Association and the Scottish Dental Practice Committee.

Dentistry was not what Derek set out to make his career – he wanted to be an airline pilot and took the exams he needed to get into that.

However after one of his cousins, an air hostess, told him of the difficult lifestyle he could expect, he changed his mind and decided to sink his teeth into dentistry instead.

The decision required him to quickly study for a Higher in Biology which he did in a year to allow him to get into dental school at Edinburgh University in 1973.

Derek with receptionist Lorna Key and dental nurse Deanne Drew

Derek with receptionist Lorna Key and dental nurse Deanne Drew

“I always knew I wanted to do something with my hands as my dad was a clock-maker and engraver and I used to watch him with fascination,” he explained.

“I never fancied doing medicine, and I have never regretted my decision in all these years.”

After five years of intensive study at university, Derek graduated from university on the Wednesday and started at J F McDonald and Associates, in the same place as he worked for 40 years, the following Monday.

“It was just a case of getting right in at the deep end and I took on around 1200 clients. It was quite a shock from taking a couple of hours to do a filling and having it checked to doing it in 30 minutes.

Derek worked alongside three other dentists who started around the same time as him at the surgery run by Jimmy McDonald, then when Jimmy decided to retire in 1985 Derek and Archie Bell took over, forming Harper Bell.

They were joined by Steve McKenzie, who passed away last year, then Colin McLauchlan and Gillian Davie and became Harper, Bell and Partners.

In August 2016 Derek’s daughter Amy joined the practice and he began to scale back his workload.

“Over the years dentistry has changed beyond recognition and the materials are unrecognisable from what they were. There are now machines which take 3D scans of your teeth and makes crowns or plates there and then!

“Machines can make a ceramic crown within an hour and labs are doing work for people overseas through online scans. It is quite astounding some of the work being done and there are no physical barriers.

“All dentists have to do continuing professional development work to keep up with all the new developments.

“I have looked after lots of people who are the children and even grandchildren of my original patients.”

Derek will spend his retirement continuing his work as secretary of Kirkcaldy Rugby Club, on the golf course and with his family, wife Anna, four children and two grandchildren.