Dan Hagi is a dentist who runs his own successful practice. He was kind enough to help answer some questions I had about dentistry and creativity.
It’s easy to understand why someone might want to go into dentistry for financial reasons — or even a certain level of prestige — but what satisfaction does the job provide on an emotional or creative level? It’s interesting that you talk about creativity because it’s that part of the job that draws me to dentistry. Medicine is much more diagnostic; dentistry has so many different ways of solving problems. It’s still rooted in science, but there is an artistry to getting to the destination. It’s almost as if you’re going through someone’s mind and figuring out what they want and then figuring out how to get there.
What’s an example of the kind of creativity you’re talking about? Take something simple like someone who doesn’t like their smile. It raises questions about what a smile should or shouldn’t be. As dentists, we can almost design a smile, like Da Vinci designed the Mona Lisa. Then there’s a psychological aspect: Figuring out what the patient likes and then helping them to understand what materials are being used and how close you’re likely to be able to get them to the smile they want.
But don’t the vast majority of your cases involve simpler, more rote stuff like cleanings? That’s the day-to-day cleanings and fillings are good, but it’s the stuff that requires stretching the way I think that I really enjoy. But how often do I sit back and plan a case?Almost always. Especially the reconstructive type cases. I take all my records, and I take photographs and models of the jaw and the base and I sit back and I think about what I want to accomplish. It’s almost like planning a journey in a way — one can last as short as a few months and as long as few years. It’s almost like your mind’s eye has to be see the final result and also figure out how to get there. That’s aspect is what I like the best.
Do your dentistry skills crossover into other aspects of your life? In the kitchen. The discipline that I have in the kitchen comes from the same place as my professional meticulousness. A similar kind of thinking applies to both places.
What was the last creative thing you did? It was a dessert I made for my nieces. A maceration of berries with an ad hoc anglaise sauce. It was good. [My brother] Gil enjoyed it.