An interview with Michael Norton.
Name: Michael R Norton BDS FDS RCS(Ed)
Position: Specialist in oral surgery, Adjunct Clinical Professor, Upenn, President, Academy Of Osseointegration 2017-2018
Practice: Norton Implants Ltd
104 Harley Street, London, W1G 7JD
Tell me about where you grew up and what your family life was like?
I grew up in Edgware in North London in a traditional home. Dad was an accountant and mum was a homemaker. In the early years Dad worked extremely hard as he built his practice. Through him I learnt what it meant to be professional and to conduct oneself with supreme professionalism!
Mum ensured we lived in a typically Jewish home, which meant it had to be extremely clean and well presented. I’m quite OCD about presentation and cleanliness, always ensuring everything is exactly in its right place.
I am sure I inherited a fair dose of these traits. I’d like to think that has helped me in my career as I have always demanded the highest standards of myself as a professional and also in regard to the manner in which I maintain my practice and strive for perfection in my surgery. I have an older brother but he left the UK when I was only 15.
So, for all my adult life it has been more like a family of three. Although we have always remained close to my brother who lives in Marseille in the South of France. Sadly my dad passed away six years ago, so these last years have been incredibly difficult for my mum and me as we have tried to adjust to life without him.
What led you to a career in dentistry?
When I was quite young new neighbours moved in directly opposite our house in Edgware. It turned out that this would become like a second home for me and the family would become a surrogate family, especially as my mother was ill for long periods and had many long spells in hospital, and of course dad was working hard.
The neighbours became my support bubble (to use current parlance!) and Carol-Ann and Harvey became like God parents. Given that my brother was rarely around, their children became like surrogate siblings and so I grew up in two homes.
Harvey Sevitt was a dentist, and like dad, he loved what he did, and was a consummate professional in the execution of his chosen career. So when it became clear that I had a love for biology, for dissection and all things to do with the human body, Harvey encouraged me to pursue a career in either medicine or dentistry.
After spending more than a few months of my summer holidays at his dental practice in Burnt Oak, I was totally sold on the idea of becoming a dentist, especially as my real love was for surgery and I saw dentistry as a purist’s surgical dream.
What do you like most about it?
I still get a huge thrill out of performing surgery, The pressure and the challenge of working with living tissue still gives me a huge buzz, and there is no greater satisfaction than when you conduct the orchestra of tissues through surgery and they heal to your tune!
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
Well there are a number of things I could say I a most proud of. Having such a successful practice, my clinical success over 30 years, my research, my contributions to the world of implant dentistry, the Astra Tech implant system that I have be central in helping to develop, and my global recognition which culminated in my Presidency of the Academy of Osseointegration in 2017-18, and the fact that I was the first non-American President of this illustrious organisation in its near 40 year history.
But I guess this can all be summarised under the heading of ‘My Career’. I am definitely most proud of what I have achieved in my career and of course my family!
Who have been your strongest influences in life?
There are clearly a few: My parents, my wife, my three sons, and my community. But in regard to my life as a dentist I’d say that my biggest influences were Harvey Sevitt who I mentioned above and Mike Simpson who was my Senior Registrar at St Thomas’ hospital all those years ago.
We are still close today and Mike went on to become the senior consultant in The Beds, Herts and Bucks Oral and Maxillofacial network. It was Mike who encouraged me to pursue a career in implant dentistry before most oral surgeons or dentists in the UK knew what dental implants were. For that, I owe him the most.
How would friends and acquaintances describe you?
Probably like I described my mum, a little OCD! They’d also probably tell you that I have strong opinions and can be demanding! But hopefully they would add that I am kind and thoughtful, but you’d have to ask them that!
Share with us something about yourself that you want to improve.
Tolerance for other opinions, and to punish myself less when things don’t go the way I had planned.
How do you unwind outside of dentistry?
Family, friends, good food, good wine, good whisky and the occasional good cigar (not very PC I know!) all help me to unwind. That and my love for astronomy. I could stare at the cosmos for eternity and never get bored. It just puts everything here on earth into some kind of perspective and that helps me to unwind.
Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
My home in Boca Raton, Florida. Nothing helps me to unwind more than being there and I really miss it, no thanks to COVID!!!
What’s your favourite film?
Apollo 13 and its message of hope, skill and belief over adversity, as well as the overall space theme! And I’d have to say a close second would be Notting Hill. It always makes my wife and I laugh and smile, it’s just a great feel good film.
How do you keep fit?
Well I recently had to have both hips replaced so keep fit hasn’t been high on my list over the last few years. But now I am fully recovered I’ve just purchased a Peleton so spinning seems to be the current keep fit fad! I’m not sure how long that’ll last but we’ll see. However I love brisk walking so that’s another more pleasurable form of keep fit for me.
Are you vegan or vegetarian?
What was the last picture you took with your phone?
Me and my family on a boat in the Caribbean Sea over Xmas, on a deep sea fishing expedition!
Sum yourself up in three words?
Anything else you’d like to add?
After 30 years at the forefront of implant dentistry in the UK I hope that I have set a good example. My commitment to all aspects of implant dentistry be it clinical, research and development, educational, Association activity and volunteerism in that domain have all helped to shape me into who I am.
I hope that younger generations of dentists who want to succeed can learn from this. There is no fast track to success. It takes hard work, a drive to always better yourself and importantly to give something back. These attributes are a common thread amongst all the good and the great of dentistry in the UK. I hope others see that in me.
This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.
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