MBT – Dental Researcher

MBT – Dental Researcher


I’m Nathan Cochrane, I’m 29
years old and I’m a dental
researcher. My job covers
the structures and diseases of the teeth, jaws
and the mouth. I have a full-time job
at the University of Melbourne doing teaching and research. One day a week I work at
Victoria Barracks as a civilian
dentist… ..doing the full range
of clinical dentistry. The other four days a week,
or my main job, is as a research fellow
at the University of Melbourne, which involves my research
in the laboratory about the chemical process
of tooth decay, and novel chemical treatments to
reverse the tooth decay process. So, we all know what dental
caries is, but it’s worth
touching on again. And I’d also spend time
teaching undergraduate students that are either training
to be dentists or training to be dental
hygienists or therapists. At school, I loved chemistry, and I was seriously considering
doing chemical engineering and
commerce as my university degree. In the end I chose dentistry
because there are dentists in
the family. Halfway through my undergraduate
training as a dentist, I deferred for one year
and did a research degree. That project was largely looking
at the chemistry of tooth decay, and it sort of
lit the research bug in me. So that got me back to the
University of Melbourne, and
I’ve finished a PhD aiming to reverse tooth decay
chemically, rather than mechanically
replacing a filling. We still need
to put fillings in because there are certain stages
of tooth decay that are too advanced
for us to reverse, but it’s picking up that early
tooth decay and reversing it
chemically that, I suppose,
I have a passion for. On a day-to-day basis
in the laboratory, I may make up different
solutions to remineralise teeth, or I may prepare human enamel
specimens and cut the teeth up to make little blocks that I can
try different experimental
techniques on to repair tooth decay
or to create tooth decay and study the process. So I do some
analytical chemistry, and also some
remineralisation experiments, where we use human teeth and try
to restore the tooth back to
health. Dentistry is a very
exciting field to be in because it is
constantly evolving. New technologies are coming in and new ways of dealing with the
old problems are being
developed. It’s bringing in a lot
of really exciting science, and resulting in
better outcomes for patients. It is good fun. I do love teeth – bit daggy to admit, but I really
love the clinical side of things
– but I also like teaching. Dentistry is a great degree because it teaches you a little
bit about a lot of things. A dentist needs to understand all the material science
of placing a filling, the structural integrity of
teeth, sort of some engineering
components, and all the medical field
of health as well. I think, in any career,
you’re only confined by the way that you’re thinking
of your career. Really, if there’s something
that you love that is related to
your career, there’s no reason that you
can’t chase down that path and increase the amount of time
you spend in a week doing one particular part
that relates to your career. In my case it’s the chemistry
that I love, and it’s the tooth decay process
that I’m very interested in. So I’ve headed off
down that path, and it’s been
a very rewarding path so far. The travelling opportunities
have been fantastic. The main tooth decay conferences
are in Europe, and so, reasonably frequently, I head over to Europe
to present our research, which is very well regarded
around the world. The Australian
population is aging. We have a lot of people that have had a lot of dental
work done over the years, and they’re getting to the point
now where teeth are breaking
down. There is a shortage of dentists
at the moment, and there is a need for more. I do love my job. It’s lovely when work isn’t
something that you just do. I go to work
and I do really like what I do. I love the people
that I work with, so going to work every day
is not a hassle. It’s something I enjoy doing. My partner may say that I spend
a little bit too much time thinking about it
outside of work hours, but I think that’s one of the
problems if you love your job.

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