The radio is playing in the background but I don’t hear it. My ears are attuned to the ‘beep’ of the apex locator as I slide a file down the narrow canal of a first molar.

The intervals of the ‘beep’ get closer together until they become one monotonous sound. Only a dentist could say that this is music. Music to their ears. My assistant is staring into space. It is fair to say that I’m the only one in the room who finds that time goes fast when doing root canal treatment.

I have invested, and will continue to invest, years of my life to be able to do precise procedures such as this. The art of making something that is noticeable, unnoticeable again.

When most of your work is done through magnification lenses, it is fairly easy to lose perspective of the world around you. You don’t know what you don’t know. Perhaps it’s ignorance. Perhaps it’s placing focus on one aspect of life at the expense of another.

Sometimes, it is easy to question the significance of working on such a small scale. But a restoration 30 microns too high feels like you’re biting on a mountain.

***

Any roughness or sharpness present, and your tongue will not leave that area alone. And of course there is that unbearable sensation that brings forward even those that avoid us the most. Pain.

It is important to put the surgical loupes away from time to time. To experience the luxury of peripheral vision. I landed in a place very far away. Areas of the landscape of South America reminded me of home, except the soil is vastly red.

It is ironic that I visited a place called mouth. The intention was to get away from anything even remotely related to this. Welcome to ‘La Boca’, a truly artistic place. Colour-block buildings make up the body that encloses the narrow streets. Local artists and merchants display their work outside. The authenticity here is irreproducible by any art gallery. This place, I truly connected with.

The the of a very special artist in ‘La Boca’.
The the of a very special artist in ‘La Boca’.

There is no stronger connection to art than the direct interaction with the original artist. The artist I talked to was very passionate. He had been all over the world, and wherever you said you are from, he could tell you something about it.

But nothing compared to the excitement on his face when I told him I am a dentist. He was so happy, he gave me a big hug. I have never seen anyone so happy to meet a dentist! He asked me to write my name on the back of the piece of art I bought. Before my eyes, he turned it into a sketch of a dentist with a patient in the chair.

I considered the many years it took him to become skilled enough to do that so quickly. I pressed my hand against my collarbone. This is definitely incomparable to any reaction I would normally get at home.

Most things in life you don’t need loupes to see. I would scan people’s teeth as they walked past in this unfamiliar part of the world. I’m afraid I have resigned to the fact that I will never be able to stop myself from doing that in public!

But you don’t even need to be a dentist to recognise what I saw. The in-tact arches. The beautiful smiles. Whether they had a lot, or a little, it didn’t seem to matter. Nobody misses their dental check-up.

Dentistry is expensive, this is a universal fact. There is a difference between dentistry being expensive and being unable to afford the dentistry, and it is important to make that distinction.

Being unable to afford dentistry is a problem. Many of the people in this part of the world have a lot less than we do. And yet there is a large presence of adults with orthodontic bands. This could quite possibly be a decade’s worth of savings.

The difference is that they make their dental care a priority. They make it a priority in favour of a fancy new car. In favour of blonde highlights. In favour of designer leather cushions. It is what someone values their smile and their health to be worth that determines whether they are willing to pay that cost.

When it comes to money, there is an emotional component that denies logic. Compared to the evolution of the human brain, money is a relatively new concept and it is complex how we process this.

In fact, we don’t always know how to. If we were to think logically, all those materialistic things do not get as much use as your teeth do. The fancy car, the highlights, the cushions, they are all superfluous. But there is some emotional attachment behind those purchases that win, over the more needed ones.

What I find inspiring about the general population in South America is that many do not have much, yet they are generally very happy. Perhaps this is another reason why their smiles are so striking in the first place.

They see their dental health as one of those important things that make you feel good. They are well aware of the fact that the quality of life that comes from a full set of well functioning and healthy teeth is hugely significant.

Money is no object when they consider the decision between saving or losing a tooth, because they see the value of that tooth as being priceless. To them, there is emotion and meaning behind a natural dentition.

This is a level of thinking rivals many in the first world. The paradox that I cannot get my head around.

A first world population that has third world oral health problems and fancy cars.

***

Sometimes art is colourful, unique and striking.
Sometimes art is simply the ability to restore and preserve a natural state.
The art of making something noticeable unnoticeable again.

This Guest Post is written by Lisa Bahho – one of our dentists at Lumino Masterton. Outside of work, Lisa likes to be in tune with her more creative and artistic side. She particularly loves writing on her blog Odontogirl.