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Obituary: John Forrest

John Orchover Forrest, dental surgeon, born London 4 May 1918, married 1944 Irene Leanse (two sons), died London 20 June 1992.

AS AN AMBASSADOR for the dental profession John Forrest was outstanding. His considerable authority in the worlds of dentistry and clinical publishing reflected his standing as a London clinician celebrated for his sensitivity for the feelings and needs of colleagues and patients. His skill in saying or writing the right word at the right time led to many books and articles and his professionalism, integrity and courage were always unobtrusive.

Parental influence temporarily guided Forrest away from his original ambition to become a writer which could not match the economic security of the dental profession. After graduating from Guy's Hospital in 1940, his professional development, ultimately to lead to a West End of London practice, included wartime service with the RAF Dental Branch and founding an NHS general practice in the Maida Vale area of London. Guy's Hospital, which had appointed him on graduation as a house surgeon, later invited him to start a training school for dental hygienists. He was an honorary lecturer from 1969 to 1971.

John Forrest never underestimated the psychological distress of tooth loss or unsightly teeth. His advice to patients, whether received at the chairside and interspersed with his wry humour, or delivered through one of his books, The Good Teeth Guide, revealed a highly effective communicator and motivator.

He was a pioneer of preventive dentistry. His early clinical practice convinced him that many patients needlessly lost teeth from the bacterial diseases of caries and periodontitis. Caries is the destruction of mineralised tooth substance; periodontitis the progressive loss of the bone, ligaments and gum tissue that support teeth. Scientific confirmation that individuals vary widely in their susceptibility to these diseases, and that caries and periodontitis comprise multiple diseases with markedly different patterns of clinical behaviour and outlook, emerged in the later years of his career.

He published widely and well. His several textbooks include Preventive Dentistry (1976) and A Guide to Successful Dental Practice (1984). His chairmanship of the Editorial Board of the bimonthly magazine Dental Practice ensured discussions that were vigorous and far-ranging. Even the most senior contributor would find their words and thoughts distilled to give maximum benefit to the formidable editorial partnership of Colin Davis and Mary Newing. Within Britain his chairmanship skills were also deployed as president of the British Society of Periodontology, the British Endodontic Society, and the Metropolitan Branch of the British Dental Association. His international work included the European Dental Society and honorary membership of the American Dental Association; at the time of his death he was president of the International College of Dentists.

His modesty extended to academic achievements that included the Fellowship in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Gibbs Prize Scholarship which he used to examine (and dramatically improve) the dental health of the Olympic athletes in Mexico City.

To younger colleagues, embarrassed and uncertain how to proceed in their early clinical career, unsure of committee work or how to develop a writing style, his guidance was charmingly old-fashioned. 'Do the best you can and the best will come back to you,' he would murmur.

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