Dental health expert

Born: June 28, 1962;

Died: November 16, 2017

PROFESSOR Jimmy Steele, who has died aged 55, was a dental scientist and former senior house officer at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School who was recognised internationally as a leading authority in his discipline; he made an immense contribution as clinician, academic, researcher and educator.

His career was laden with distinctions. Head of Newcastle University School of Dental Sciences from 2009 to 2016, he held Fellowships from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and London and was honorary consultant in restorative dentistry at Newcastle NHS Foundation Trust Hospitals.

In 2009 he headed up the independent review of NHS dentistry for England, latterly better known as the Steele Review, which was well received by all interested parties. He also played an important role in several national adult and children’s dental health surveys, key to the country’s oral health assessment.

In 2012 he received a CBE for services to dentistry and oral health while last year he was awarded the highly prestigious John Tomes Medal by the British Dental Association for scientific eminence in dentistry - a rare honour, seldom bestowed and only on distinguished members of the profession.

He graduated from Dundee University in 1985 with a commendation and over the next four years worked in Perth Royal Infirmary in the maxillo-facial department. He then worked at Glasgow Dental Hospital before taking up an appointment at Newcastle University in 1989 as clinical lecturer. In 1995 he completed his PhD involving a large scale epidemiological survey of oral health in older adults and in 1999 became senior clinical lecturer. Four years later he was appointed Professor of Oral Health Services and on his retirement last year was given the title of Emeritus Professor.

His health service research included work on primary care, clinical trials and health economics while he also wrote and contributed to many books and journals, especially on restorative and preventative dentistry. He was dental research lead for the national clinical research network. Alongside that, he undertook regular weekly clinical work for the NHS at the Dental School where he enjoyed the challenge of dealing with the more complex cases.

A natural and gifted communicator, he was an extremely able and popular teacher who students found very encouraging and inspiring. Teaching was a part of his work he thoroughly enjoyed.

Throughout his career, he was considered someone who paid attention to the big picture and was always conscious of the public health angle. This is reflected in his foreword to his eponymous 2009 Review when he wrote, “We can build a national oral health service fit for the 21st century with an oral health legacy to match.”

Later he placed emphasis on the interconnected nature of the whole system, stating that “a good dentist needs primary care trust backing and the trust needs support from the strategic health authority and department of health. It works best when everything is pointing in the same direction.”

Professor Steele was born in Edinburgh, the younger child of Christelle and George, who were originally from Glasgow. Christelle had attended Glasgow School of Art and then taught art while George was a sports journalist who occasionally appeared on Scotsport as match commentator.

He was brought up in the Fairmilehead area in the lea of the Pentland Hills and attended the Royal High School where he did well academically and took part in the usual range of activities. Family holidays were sometimes spent in the old fishing village of Crovie in Banffshire where he enjoyed being taken out in boats to lay and collect lobster creels.

A grandmother’s gift of a Ladybook book on birds, followed by his identification shortly after of an unusual species, encouraged frequent birdwatching trips to the Pentlands and what became a lifelong passion. A founder member of Fife Bird Club while at university, he later became a member of the British Rare Birds Committee, assessing claims for rare bird sightings.

At university he met medical student Katie Bushby from Liverpool and they married in her home city in 1987. Recently they celebrated the 30th anniversary of a happy and fulfilling marriage. They had two children, Tom, a doctor, born in 1989 and Jenny, a cancer charity policy adviser, born in 1992. Two years after marrying, they moved to the Gosforth area of Newcastle where Ms Bushby is professor of neuromuscular genetics at the university.

Although his was a very busy and demanding professional schedule, Professor Steele had bags of energy and in the words of his wife, “never sat still.” Family life and activities were very important to him. He enjoyed quality dining, especially seafood and good wine, but also preparing and cooking it. For about 20 years he organised a ‘fish day’ at the dental school’s charity auction where he would take students to buy the fish, assist them prepare and cook it before they served it to staff members - always a successful fun day that raised funds for deserving causes.

For his 50th birthday, friends, aware of his happy Crovie memories, gifted him lobster creels which he put to good use at Newton by the Sea in Northumberland. Travel and the natural world were other enthusiasms which latterly took him on family holidays to Australia, Canada, California and India.

Proud of his Scottish roots, he welcomed the opportunity to don his kilt and was a warm, humorous and well rounded individual whose presence lit up a room. Professor Steele had been suffering from cancer and is survived by his wife, children, mother and sister Alison.