Nairn Wilson graduated BDS from the University of Edinburgh in 1973. In 1975, following junior appointments in Edinburgh, he moved to the University of Manchester to become a lecture in Conservative Dentistry.

Since then, Nairn he had risen to the rank of Professor (Restorative Dentistry) and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, and had been elected President of the General Dental Council (1999-2003), holding the positions of Dean of the University Dental Hospital of Manchester (1992-1995) and Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (1995- 1998), together with a period of seven years seconded to industry (ICI Dental, 1979-1986) in the process.

He was appointed Dean and Head of King's College London Dental Institute in 2001. He held this position until 2012, together with the position of Deputy Vice Principal (Health), King's College London between 2009 and 2012. Nairn's many other positions have included Editor of the Journal of Dentistry (1986-2000), Chairman of the Joint Committee for Specialist Training in Dentistry (1998-1999, 2007-2010), Chairman of the Council of Deans and Heads of Dental Schools (2006-2008), Co-chair of the Forum of European Heads and Deans of Dental Schools (2007- 2012) and Governor, University of Portsmouth ( 2012 to date). He has been president of numerous dental societies and other organisations.

His interests include healthcare regulation, international trends in dental education, and future developments in the clinical practice of dentistry. His latest award was the 2013 Dentistry Lifetime Contribution Award.

Nairn is a past President of British Dental Association and has published more than 250 original research papers. He has been a Trustee of the Oral Health Foundation since 2013. He is also Patron of the Dental Wellness Trust and a Trustee of the Oral and Dental Research Trust.