SET on a career in medicine, Farouk Shamash was bemused when a family friend suggested he consider dentistry instead.

He'd never heard of the practice.

“I’d never been to a dentist,” Dr Shamash admitted.

“He had to explain that it was a doctor of the mouth.”

As unlikely as that exchange was, what’s even more astonishing is that, for the past 60 years, Dr Shamash has been practicing from the same bright room overlooking the Solent in Ryde.

At 85 he’s only just retired, thought to have been the UK's oldest working doctor, with that decision more Covid-driven than inspired by any loss of ability or interest.

Isle of Wight County Press: Ryde - 9 Melville Street - Bupa Dental Care - Dr Farouk Shamash who turns 83 in April.

Growing up in Iran, Dr Shamash's life on the Isle of Wight couldn’t have been further from the picture.

Educated in English at the American Missionary School in Tehran, he spoke a now vanishing Jewish dialect of Arabic at home and Farsi when visiting shops or speaking with domestic help.

He was 13 when he and his family spent six months touring England and Europe. Having returned to school the next year, he was called to the principal’s office one day.

He was told a car and chauffeur were waiting and his mother wanted him home.

With that, the life he’d known was over. The house had been quietly sold after his mother was traumatised by a burglary and the family flew to England the next day.

“There was no warning. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye or anything.”

After boarding school in Brighton and studying dentistry at Kings College, London, Dr Shamash was headhunted by the owner of what’s now Bupa Dental Health in Ryde.

“He asked me to work with him on the Isle of Wight. I had no idea where that was so he drew a little triangle and said it’s there, opposite Southampton and Portsmouth.”

On a sunny day in November, Dr Shamash and his late wife, Pauline, made a boat trip across. Having intended to stay for a couple of years, they ended up buying — and much later selling — the practice in its lovely Georgian building and staying for decades.

“In those days, there was a single traffic light on the whole Island, in Yarmouth near the car ferry,” Dr Shamash recalls.

Inevitably, changes to dentistry over the past 60 years have been dramatic.

“When I started, about 60 percent of people middle-aged or older had full dentures.

“A few times a week we had patients in to have all their teeth out. People didn’t know much about the prevention of gum disease.

“I liked being a sort of Sherlock Holmes and diagnosing problems. I think I’ve been a very good diagnostician.

"I’ve also loved the people I’ve worked with and have been pleased with Bupa, who are the fourth owners since I sold the practice and who stay up to date with legislation and make sure we do our best for the patients.”

As with leaving Iran, Farouk’s abrupt retirement means he never got to say goodbye to the patients he’s valued for so many years, which he found the hardest thing.

When co-workers offered to send on some things he’d left behind, he said no, he would wait until things get better and go back to give them all a hug.

Dr Shamash met his second wife, Billie, when he and his late wife used to go to her restaurant The Hayloft, now Ganders, in St Helens.

They now live in Emsworth, Hampshire, from where he has commuted by car and hovercraft to the Island three days a week for the past several years.