What is dentistry – an art or science?

Is dentistry an art or science? It may seem like a total nonsense question, akin to the puzzle of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Or which came first: the chicken or the egg? But it has a surprising impact on how dentistry developed and even on how it is practised today in clinics everywhere from Vladivostok to a dentist in Tunbridge Wells.

Medical sciences; the development and approval of treatment

All dental care goes through a long and analytical period before it is approved for general clinics. This process is similar to the way in which prescription medications are approved. They have to show that they are at least safe and in which groups. For example, are they safe for children under 3? Pregnant patients? And if safe, are they efficacious? How long is the treatment likely to last or will it need to be re-administered?

Only once all these questions have been answered, a process will  be approved for general clinical use. But even if approval is granted it doesn’t mean they will be seen in local dental clinics. Each individual clinic decides if they wish to invest in the necessary equipment and training to provide the treatment. In some cases, like dental implants, this will involve specialist post-dental school training, as well as weighing up the costs to see if it’s a good fit for their surgery, and useful to the demographics they treat.

Dental articles and artistry

So, with all these articles and analytics, it seems cut and dried that dentistry is a science right?  Well, oil paint manufacturers have to analyse their red to make sure it’s free of lead oxide and yellow to make sure it’s free of cadmium. Such heavy metals are poisonous and no longer acceptable in consumer products. Does that make a painting done with them less art?

The blend of method and creativity

When it comes to creating new procedures that can go on to become treatments, there is certainly a spark of innovation. After formality and rigorous testing, the treatment becomes part of the skillset of the dentist, who must address each patient with their nuanced medical history and different goals or clinical needs and try to meet them with the spectrum available.

A craft and the craftsman’s work

A better way to see the practice of dentistry is the actual moment-to-moment handling of drills and application of fillings as a craft, one that shows the individual skill of the practitioner giving a portion of autonomy and creativity, on grounds of creativity with a function. The carpenter’s chair can certainly show off scrolling skills, but must still be able to stand level and bear the weight of a person.

From the perspective of receiving care, patients would prefer to be attended to by an artist, albeit a down-to-earth one, seen as an individual that requires individual attention, and skilled treatment. This is preferable to be seen through the lens of a scientific cohort, whose results need to be compared to a control group with a cool indifference to the outcome.