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Is dentistry an art or a science?


By John Hackbarth, DDS

When I attended dental school, dentistry was part of the medical arts and sciences.

  Arts, you say?  Yes, Dentistry and Medicine were considered to be arts, as well as sciences. 

 My grandfather was a gynecologist/ urologist. He had a double specialty.  He attended medical school in Galveston in 1917-1919. After he received his medical degree and practiced for a few years, he went to Europe to study for his specialties.  Upon returning to Houston, he practiced until he was 84 years old. 

 I mention him, because when he was studying and during most of his practice years, there were none of the fancy machines that do blood assays and sophisticated x- rays, like Cat scans, nor were there MRI’s and arthroscopic surgeries.  What there was, was the physician’s sense of observation and ability to think with what he saw. For example, I can remember him dipping his finger into a urine sample to taste for sweetness (diabetes) and smelling if it indicated infection or another metabolic disorder.  There was an art to diagnosis and treatment. Today, medicine has descended from being an art as well as a science, to just treating to the test. Doctors have many tests, and they prescribe many medications. Drugs are advertised on TV by the dozens. Many patients take as many as 20 to 30 drugs. Much of this is driven by decreasing reimbursements from Medicare and insurance companies.

Now I am not complaining about all the various tests we have now days.  They are extremely helpful, but physicians need to talk to their patients, listen and spend time examining them so they can make an accurate diagnosis.

 There is a trend happening right now in the world of dentistry.  Something is changing, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. This trend is driven by corporate dentistry and insurance companies.

More and more we are seeing dentistry descend into the area of being a commodity. Let me assure you, every crown or filling is not equal.  The knowledge and skill of the doctor, the quality if materials used, and a great environment for treatment is all part of getting the best.  

You should think of dentistry as a service, not as something you can buy at any store.  Ladies, would you just go to any hairdresser to get your hair cut and colored? Probably not.  You want somebody who is skilled at making you look your very best. Would you go for the cheapest nose job?  I think you would go to the doctor who had consistently great results even if he or she was considerably more expensive.

There is an art to making the correct diagnosis regarding oral health.  It is not just looking for holes in teeth and bleeding gums. There are many ways dentists can help with your total health.  It has been said that the mouth is a mirror to your body’s health. I find that a true statement. A great doctor will incorporate all his skill and knowledge into making sure you get your mouth really healthy so it will not adversely affect your overall health.  There is more to it than filling holes in teeth.

There is an art to making your smile and teeth look great.  It is not going for the cheapest crowns or veneers. Crowns and veneers are things.  The art is in how to make it all come together to give great results and a comfortable, relaxing experience during treatment.  Insurance mindsets often make people think in the terms of dentistry as a commodity. I’m pretty sure that is not what most people want.  In choosing dental care, be sure you choose wisely.

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Dr Hackbarth practices in Texas City.  He has been helping patients here for over 40 years.

He has lectured around the US teaching other dentists about new technology and techniques in dentistry.

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