The Literal Marriage of Art and Dentistry

By Keith Garubba

We dropped the kids off at “Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s” house with plenty of time before our reservation at 6:00. It was date night!
At the restaurant, we were seated where we’d hoped, we got comfortable, and ordered our food. Our evening was a treat. But what would be on the menu of conversation? I’m an artist, and Maria is—you guessed it—a dentist.

Maria and I met in high school, and on our very first date Maria informed me she wanted to be a dentist, and I’d told her that I wanted to be an artist. Perhaps some wonder what a couple like us actually has in common? What do we even talk about?

Usually what we talk about is cartoons, even before we had children. But we are capable of having grown-up conversations too. This particular night we found ourselves talking all night about business. We talked business books and articles we’d read, strategies we think about, and ideas we have for marketing and growing our respective businesses.

Romantic, right?

But it was romantic because we are invested in each other’s pursuits even though we don’t always understand each other’s work. And what’s more, it was intellectually stimulating. We are two professionally disparate personalities. The idea that we can meet minds on this line of discourse is nice.

Early in our relationship, I sort of romanticized the overlaps between the work of dentists and the work of artists. There are certainly shared skills and concerns. We both have aesthetic considerations in our work. There is a spatial aptitude necessary and learned in what we both do.

Now that we are both launched into our respective fields, I am much more keen to notice the immense differences. The art of a dentist is attached to a person, while it’s being crafted and afterward while it is being appreciated (or ignored). Maria’s aesthetic considerations for her patients can’t be prioritized over the limits of functional consequences. Her workspace is a tiny, flooded cave the size of a small teacup, whereas my workspace is often limitless. As an artist, I will never need to know the intricacies of insurances, the sensitivities of patients, or the ethics of care that are the quagmires of everyday operations in her world.

But she will never have to understand what it’s like to have the legitimacy of your own profession questioned. Dental care, although still always fighting for its value over the material luxuries and experiences, will likely always be considered a necessary part of a healthy society. Dentists don’t have to be concerned that future generations will have their related foundational courses cut from school curriculums. Dentists don’t spend hours to days writing a lengthy grant proposal for a measly $500. It is not expected that a dentist is desperate enough to trade their services or provide their services for “exposure opportunity” as payment. She doesn’t have to establish philosophical meaning in her work in a field that prioritizes theory and criticism; the meaning of her work is practical. It’s scientific!

The similarities have become less romantic to me as well. The sacrifice of body for craft is built into both of our fields (the Garubba family is a physical therapist’s goldmine). The personalities that are “successful” in each of our fields are not always people whom we admire as human beings and can aspire to be like. The patients/clients don’t want to spend their money on our art when they could spend it on a new phone. Our fields are becoming more and more reliant on digital solutions, rather than handcrafting our products.

There are days that our overlapping expertise is a cause for differences of opinion. You will never hear any two people clash heads over which shade of white wall paint should be used than you will between a dentist and an artist. I’ve conceded these decisions to Maria in exchange for authority over every other color.

However, I do recognize the place that creativity has in her work. I assume many people have an image in their mind about what “creativity” means to an artist. Creativity is simply a form of problem-solving, even for me. And in all of the stories that I hear from Maria—all of the financial workarounds, structural engineering, and improvisational patient-doctor conversations, etc.—I hear the necessity for dentists to be inventive and clever atop a firm foundation of technique. The creativity is where I see dentists behaving most like artists.

Creativity is draining. And that’s why Maria and I recharge our batteries by watching cartoons after we put the kids to bed at night.

Keith Garubba is an artist working in Bethlehem, PA. If you would like to see more of Keith’s art, visit his website at www.keithgarubba.com.

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