Note: Astute readers will note that two spellings--"aesthetic"
and "esthetic"--are used in this issue. Since different
people determine the spelling they prefer, and since both spellings
are acceptable, the choice is yours.
Irwin Smigel, DDS
Recently Global Health Nexus spoke with three
pioneers who helped to usher in the era of aesthetic dentistry —Dr.
Irwin Smigel, Dr. Ronald E. Goldstein, and Dr. K. William Mopper
— and asked them to talk about their roles in bringing aesthetic
dentistry into the mainstream of American life.
Global Health Nexus (GHN): I understand
that you were one of the first practitioners to use the popular
media to introduce aesthetic dentistry to the public. Could you
talk about your experiences?
Dr. Smigel: In 1975, I was invited
to appear on a New York radio program, the “Long John”
Nebel show to talk about what was then known as acid etching, a
reference to the acid that bonds restorative material to a tooth.
On an earlier program, a well-known oral surgeon had walked out
of Long John’s studio in a rage after the famously cantankerous
host insisted that he discuss the potential dangers of X-ray radiation,
rather than his surgical techniques. Having heard about this incident,
I arrived for the interview with a sense of trepidation, but the
usually belligerent Long John was so fascinated by the wonders of
acid etching that his disposition that night was closer to a pussycat’s
than a tiger’s. In fact, during a commercial break, he said:
“People will be frightened by the thought of acid used in
their mouths. Why not call it ‘bonding’ instead?”
And it’s been known as bonding ever since.
But it wasn’t until 1980 that an opportunity
arose to publicize bonding to a national audience. After reading
my book, Dental Health, Dental Beauty, Los Angeles–based television
talk show host Mike Douglas invited me to demonstrate bonding live
on the air. Although I had a tough act to follow (Sonny Bono of
Sonny and Cher sang a song just before my segment), and just 40
minutes to repair a broken tooth and close a gap for a man from
the studio audience, I managed to get the job done.
On my return to New York, I learned from Mike Douglas’s
staff that the segment had attracted the largest response in the
show’s history. Then, in 1981, after devoting 11 years to
developing dental bonding and lecturing on it throughout the United
States, I was invited to demonstrate the technique on That’s
Incredible — at the time the second highest-rated show on
TV — where I proceeded to whiten and reshape a young ballerina’s
tetracycline-stained teeth before the largest viewing audience ever
to watch a dental procedure.
GHN: What was the response to that
Dr. Smigel: There was such a surge
in demand for bonding that it became necessary to quickly train
more dentists, and to ensure that they were skilled enough to take
on a large number of new cases. Accordingly, we restructured a professional
organization that I had created in 1976, the American Society for
Dental Aesthetics, to administer a training and certification program
that would generate a base for referrals. I taught classes with
several colleagues who were already adept at bonding, and then selected
the most proficient students to become instructors. They, in turn,
helped spread awareness of the technique not only in the United
States but internationally as well. Today the American Society for
Dental Aesthetics has probably taught more aesthetic dentistry to
more dentists around the world than any other organization.
GHN: Were there other, less publicized,
Dr. Smigel: There were many great
innovations. Dr. Michael Buonocore introduced the revolutionary
concept of acid etching to prepare teeth for fillings without invading
them beyond the area of decay. Another pioneer, Dr. Raphael Bowen,
created the original composite by incorporating a filler material
into the plastic filling, making it stronger, longer lasting, and
more aesthetically pleasing. The work of these two pioneers catalyzed
developments that transformed dentistry’s scope and sent patients’
expectations soaring. In addition to bonded bridges, porcelain laminates,
and infinitely stronger and more stable all-porcelain crowns, there
came improved techniques for maintaining teeth, both endodontically
and periodontically. Moreover, missing teeth were no longer automatically
replaced with removable dentures. Now there were implants, which
often rendered dentures unnecessary.
GHN: As you look back on your extraordinary
career, what are your proudest achievements?
Dr. Smigel: I’m extremely
proud that aesthetic dentistry has shown millions of people that
it is possible to improve the smile you were born with and that
it has changed forever people’s perceptions about dentistry’s
role in enhancing the quality of life. I take added pride in having
established the Smigel Aesthetic Dentistry Fund at NYU to provide
aesthetic dental care for young people pursuing careers in the performing
arts who would not otherwise be able to afford such care. Above
all, I am proud and honored that NYUCD has chosen to recognize me
as the “father of aesthetic dentistry.”
Dr. Irwin Smigel, the founder and president
of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics, has been at the forefront
of developments in bonding, veneers, changing facial structures,
and laser whitening.