Does Dentistry Involve Much Artistic Skill?

November 2009

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

Mesmerized by the vivid luminescence of twinkling stars, the captivating blue sky with its twilight mood and a bright crescent moon, I gazed at the surreal beauty magnificently captured in this beautiful landscape. The wonderful motion felt by the swirling clouds stretching across the panorama is delicately balanced by stars strategically riveted in the sky that provide a needed sense of stability. The rolling hills, with their majestic purple haze, provide a peaceful and secure feeling to the small town that lies within their borders. The tranquil glow of windows provides an alluring invitation, which is clearly dominated and contrasted by nature’s powerful vast universe full of movement and wonderment. A tall church steeple is present directly in the middle of town providing a clear connection between the town and God above. The brilliance and mastery of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” has always intrigued me for its simplicity and extreme depth all in one painting. It has evoked my appreciation of art and has motivated me in my professional career to unify art and cosmetic dentistry.

Art, like cosmetic dentistry, both create an illusion by nature. In the case of a painting, a three-dimensional scene is depicted by a two-dimensional image. The artist uses illusions so our brains accept and rationalize an image in order to imply a realistic scene. Art has a mysterious and elusive quality being able to create a beautiful display utilizing the goal of a perfect interaction and display of color.
In the case of cosmetic fillings and crowns in dentistry, our canvas has historically been more two-dimensional borrowing the same aspects of art onto a surface. With the sophisticated achievements of science and modern dental materials, our flat canvas has expanded to a more three-dimensional blend of colors across the span of 1mm thickness, allowing impressive depth and realism as never before observed.

The introductory principles in art and dentistry share many similarities. Outline form is the most crucial element of all to master for implied realism observed as a person in a Rembrandt painting or as a tooth within the confines of a smile. In comparison to art that has introduced impressionism, never a goal of dentistry, if the outline form and three-dimensional shape of a tooth isn’t nearly perfect, it will quickly appear “fake” and not be accepted as part of the smile.

Color is an extremely complex component in both art and dentistry, as you’d expect. Color contributes depth, contrast, and realism. Color is broken down in hue, value and chroma. Hue is the actual color (i.e. blue, yellow). Value is the shades of color (i.e. lightness or darkness). Lighter colors make objects seem larger and darker colors make objects seem smaller, representing a foreground and background principle, respectively. Chroma is the saturation of color (i.e. rich or dull). Colors in art are limitless. Colors in dentistry are also limitless, contrary to most people’s opinion that teeth only possess white, yellow and gray. Actually teeth display a combination of all colors including green, orange, red, blue, or violet in order to achieve a color as additive (more emphasized) and subtractive (less emphasized), a major principle of art effecting how the eye perceives color. For example, adding violet combined with white and blue to the edge of a crown creates the illusion of light translucency and a three-dimensional appearance.

Cosmetic Dentistry borrows many elements from art that all focus on one thing, a life-like replacement of natural tooth structure. Art provides many principals that are crucial in dentistry to mastering natural fillings and crowns allowing patient’s teeth to look fantastic. Today, cosmetic dentistry is virtually involved in every aspect of restorative care. Excellence in dentistry comes from combining art and science to produce whiter teeth and beautiful smiles that ultimately creates complete satisfaction and comfort for our patients.