Meet Professor Tara Renton

Posted on 25th September 2019

We spoke to Professor of Oral Surgery Tara Renton, ahead of her lecture at ADA House in November.

You only need to spend a short time with Tara Renton to understand why she’s so busy – she loves her job and is utterly passionate about what she does. Tara says she ended up in dentistry partly by intension and partly by default, which isn’t surprising when you find out that she’s a fourth-generation dentist.

“My dad was a dentist, my grandfather was a dentist and I recently found out my great grandfather, even though he was a medic, retired as a dentist. So, I come from a long line of dentists,” she laughs.

“My father was very keen not for me to do dentistry,” Tara adds. “He loved the work, but he hated the business side. But that almost galvanised my determination to do it and I love it.”

Tara says her decision to specialise in oral surgery was because she loves using her hands, as well as her brain. “I didn’t want to do just the thinking, I wanted to do more doing.”

Tara soon met her future husband, and after spending some time working in a practice in England, moved to Melbourne to be with him. There, she was giving a lecture and Professor Peter Reid happened to be sitting at the back. “I didn’t know who he was, but he rang me up two weeks later and asked if I wanted to be the first girl to do MaxFac surgery (Maxillofacial surgical training) on the Melbourne course. It was a red flag to a bull.” Tara later completed her PhD in trigeminal nerve injury at King’s College in London.

It is clear that Tara has achieved her desire to do and not just think – wearing many hats as a Professor in Oral Surgery at Kings College London, Honorary Consultant Kings College Hospital Foundation Trust and Guys and St Thomas Foundation Trust and Honorary Fellow American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. She is also the Past President of the British Association of Oral Surgeons, as well as being editor of four books and many peer-reviewed publications.

Tara says achieving work-life balance has been a challenge. “My secret weapon, my lovely husband, has probably helped me achieve the most important things in life, which is 32 years still married and still talking to each other and grown-up kids who we are very, very proud of. Everything else is background noise and my job is the absolute icing on the cake,” she says.

“I have been incredibly lucky. I have worked very hard and I’m very passionate about my work. But as some people say, work hard and you make your own luck. I don’t know if I fully believe that, but I have been given opportunities that I haven’t declined.

“When you’re a working mother, those skills of organisation, almost to a high military level, getting up, not sleeping much, doing today what you won’t leave until tomorrow, all those attributes of a working mother, I have brought to my work and that is partly why I am so productive. I don’t waste time.”

Tara also travels frequently as an in-demand international lecturer. When we spoke to Tara, she had just returned from lecturing in Jordan, and was preparing for upcoming lectures in America, Sydney, Brazil and Amsterdam.

Adding to her international travel itinerary is a trip to Perth in November, when Tara will present her lecture: Oral Surgery Update at ADA House.

The lecture will cover diagnoses that can be mistaken for toothache, success and potential pitfalls of local anaesthesia, painless management of the oral surgical patient and risk assessment of patients with Mandibular third molars. Tara admits she doesn’t like the word ‘lecture’ – instead, she enjoys talking to people who are interested in hearing.

“I hope to give a couple of tools that they may not have heard about, or they may not have thought about that will really help them in practice managing their patients and improving patient care,” she says. “That is my mission goal – to improve patient care but in a very pragmatic, simple way.

“Most dentists do the same local anaesthesia practice that they were taught 30 or 40 years ago or even 10 years ago,” she explains. “Some do the same extraction techniques, so my clinical perspective is around changing people’s perspective around risk assessment and also getting them some really good surgical clinical tips to minimise harming their patients and optimise their pain management practice.

“I hope they take away a bit of confidence to maybe change their practice in some ways,” she adds. “We usually beat ourselves up in dentistry and we do the most incredibly difficult job. We’re the only surgical speciality that work on conscious patients; everyone else has their patients asleep… we are operating on conscious patients but we are also operating in the most feared and difficult area to work on and I don’t think we pat ourselves on the back frequently enough about the amazing job we do.”

On the horizon, Tara hopes to change her working pattern slightly and slow down a little bit, although she says she will always be a workaholic. “My husband and I are doing a lot of travelling together, so we are calling it our gap decade,” she says. “We would love to spend some more time with our sons in Canada and Australia and I have some research work to finish, PhD students to support and already have lecturing invitations for 2021 and 2022.”

Professor Tara Renton will present her lecture “Oral Surgery Update” on November 15 at ADA House. She will also be a special guest speaker at our Young Dentists’ Conference at ADA House on November 16.