J: One of the interesting things about dentistry is that you work very directly with your clients, you're working with your hands, there was a wonderful Marxist notion called `alienation' where workers were alienated from the products of their labour.. Certainly in dentistry don't have that sort of problem. We have the ability to be integrated, if you like, with the product of our labour. And by and large this is a very fortuitous arrangement. It's one that's very peaceful because one of the nice things about practicing this skill is that you become emersed in the work itself and you lose sense of time. It's little bit trance-like at times, you're focused, you're concentrating on the tooth, everything's focused around a very small thing. There is a sense of timelessness to it. One of the reasons why a lot of us dentists do have trouble runing to time is that once we become emersed in our work we actually tend to lose track of time
K: But somebody who works with their hands and sees the results of their labour's like a potter, has something to put on mantel piece, has something to hold in their hands. But you can't hold it in your hands, can you?
J: Well, that's not the issue you see. One of the lovely things about teeth, you might have noticed when people go looking at ancient civilizations, they put great store on the teeth, this is no fluke because often all that remains are in fact the teeth. So our work is probably going to last as long as the potters in its own way. And if the work survives long enough then I'm sure that in a couple of thousand years time, people will wonder about these queer objects that are in people's teeth. And try and come up with a pecking order about who were the kings and who were the princes, and who were the paupers in this society and how you could tell from their teeth who was show. So in a sense we've got it all over most professions
Let's move to a colleague's surgery, a few blocks away. It's his lunch break and he reflects in front of a beautifully crafted dental cabinet.
B: My own dentist had a great pride in workmanship. I knew him as a person. I can remember the time when my father and he were building a caravan each together and his pride as he produced something to a `thou', it always was, every little bit of woodwork was to a thousandth of an inch. His craftsmanship with wood and furniture, cabinet making was terrific. Some of the fillings he did for me, 35-40 years ago are still in place in my teeth and still functioning well, even though he has left this world some 10-15years ago. So the work goes on much longer than we do sometimes.
Back to our first dentist, are their kindred arts to dentistry?
I've always been fascinated by what I call rural sculpture. I've always been facscinated the way farmers leave bits of machinery where they leave them, and why they leave them there. Why they use metal in some situations or timber. This is all really playing if you like with sculptural properties of materials. So in that grand sense I'm interested in sculpture, but not so much jewellery, it's something I've probably got a bit of a block about.
K: There's a huge difference in scale in the sort of handiwork involved in dentistry and that involved in what you call rural sculpture.
J: Well that's what fascinates me. I've wondered about this a lot. Because we're dealing with very small objects, people think we're dealing on a very small scale. In some senses we are, but in another sense, if I'm watching bricklayers building a wall, for instance, I'm always amazed they can make such a tall wall to such fine tolerances. You might have a 20 foot high wall and you won't be out more than an inch in terms of your vertical. And to me that's a very high degree of accuracy and it's probably not the sort of accuracy you achieve in dentistry. Because after all if you start off with a tooth that's only maybe 7mm wide, and you might aspire to an accuracy of 50 microns, I'm not sure that doesn't pale into insignificance when you compare it to say, a 40 foot high brick wall when the tolerances are only one inch.
K: But a bricklayer doesn't work inside somebody's mouth. that must have it's own problems.
J: Well they have their own criteria. Maybe I've been a dentist too long, but mouths are very big places for me. I don't ever think of them as being a small place. Sounds terrible for my poor patients, but after a while you just don't notice the space limitations. You have your tricks, I guess
K: So do you do any rural sculpture, yourself?
J: I quite like fiddling. I'm from country originally and I always liked doing this. I'm always disappointed, thought, that my attempts at rural manufactor always turn out to be too neat. I have never found out how you get that raw rudeness into rural manufacture if you like.
K: Do you think that's a dentist's legacy, not being able to be reckless.
J: I've wondered about that, it's either in my nature or it's a legacy of dentistry. And it does bother me. Because I really wish I wasn't so neat, when I come to the grand scale.
To virtual dentistry