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John McLean

'John McLean was a highly motivated, quintessentially professional, inspirational innovator, let alone a superb clinician, gifted teacher and great ambassador for the UK. The John McLean Archive is a befitting tribute to one of the giants of the dental profession'  

Professor Nairn Wilson,  Professor of Dentistry, King's College London Dental Institute

John Walford McLean (1925-2009)

The archive has been established in memory of John McLean, the leading dental practitioner and internationally renowned author, lecturer and dental materials scientist with a bequest from his family.


Early Career

John McLean attended Guy’s Hospital to study dentistry and he gained the License in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1948. During his time at Guy’s McLean was awarded the Dental Society Prizes in 1946, 1947 and 1948 as well as the prestigious Newland Pedley Prize for Operative Dentistry. McLean’s interest in research also began during his time at Guy’s. While there he developed his own self-curing acrylic cement and invented the screw pressure crown. On graduating he became house surgeon to the oral and maxillofacial surgeon, William Kelsey Fry. Fry often took McLean to the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead, which was famous for its pioneering treatment of RAF and allied aircrew who suffered burns or injuries during World War II. During his early career McLean met many influential dentists and surgeons, including Sir Terence Ward, Squadron Leader Jerry Moore and Professor Martin Rushton. It was Rushton who encouraged McLean to pursue a career in applied dental materials science. Under Rushton’s guidance McLean published his first paper in which he identified the odontoblast aspiration in dentinal tubules, the first time it had been reported. At the same time, from 1949 to 1951, McLean was in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve where he served as a Surgeon Lieutenant at the Royal Navy Barracks in Portsmouth. Throughout his career John McLean maintained his private restorative dental practice at Devonshire Street, London, where he worked for three and a half days a week until his retirement in 1991. Once his practice was established McLean went to work as a demonstrator on the conservation floor at Guy’s. Later he decided to pursue his interest in applied dental materials science by becoming a lecturer in dental materials at the Eastman Dental Hospital, a post he held for 19 years.


John McLean strived for new knowledge and understanding in dental materials science throughout his career and he was involved in some of the major breakthroughs in this area. In 1952 he produced the first paper on bonding agents with Professor Ivor Kramer, which described the effect of glycerophosphoric acid based adhesives (Sevriton) on dentine. In 1964 McLean worked with Harry Hughes on the development of high strength aluminous porcelain, which was extremely successful and almost completely replaced conventional porcelain in a relatively short space of time. In 1973 McLean was appointed clinical consultant to the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. With Alan Wilson, head of the dental section, he carried out the clinical trials of glass ionomer cements. McLean was instrumental in promoting the use of glass ionomer cements and for continued developments. In 1985 he wrote a paper with Oswald Gasser on cermet ionomer cements, sintered metal glassed compositions.   


John McLean produced several significant works throughout his career. In the early 1970s he collaborated with Michael Kedge and John Hubbard on the book The Science and Art of Dental Ceramics. It was a comprehensive work on prosthetics, including the latest technology on tin plating platinum for attachment of porcelain, gold plating, high alumina bridges, alumina tube crown and bride pontic and metal ceramics. He was editor of the proceedings of the 1st International Ceramics Symposium in 1983 and wrote Dental Materials and their Clinical Applications and Glass Ionomer Cement, both published in 1988.


John McLean’s academic career also thrived. In 1966 he obtained a Master of Dental Surgery degree from the University of London for his thesis The development of Ceramic Oxide Reinforced Dental Porcelains with an appraisal of their physical and clinical properties. This was followed by a Doctorate of Science in 1978 from the University of London for his work Advances in new dental materials and their physical and biological assessment.


John McLean was also an active member of his profession. He was President of BDA in 1984 and served as an elected member of the General Dental Council from 1986 to 1991.


John McLean received many honours and prizes throughout his career. Among others he received an OBE in 1978 for his services to dental research, both the John Tomes Prize (1981) and Medal (1992) from the Royal College of Surgeons and was made an Honorary Fellow of both United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy’s and St Thomas’ (1997) and King’s College London (2000).