What makes someone choose a career where they spend most of the day peering into people’s mouths? KAREN WATKINS looks into this and speaks to a local dentist with 40 years of experience.
Hout Bay dentist Dr Andrew Effting’s family came to South Africa from the Netherlands after World War II.
Living in Grahamstown, his father worked as a butcher before they moved to Uitenhage. When Dr Effting’s twin brother, Bennie, got sick, his mother and the seven children scrubbed the house in readiness for a doctor’s visit. Tall of stature, wearing a white coat and driving a fancy car, the doctor healed his brother. That’s when the young Andrew Effting decided that medicine was a good vocation. But the family was dirt poor and could not afford to send him to university.
Undaunted, Andrew applied for bursaries and won one that allowed him entry into the dental faculty at Wits University.
Professor Neil Myburgh, acting manager of the dental faculty at UWC, says dentistry attracts people who are interested in a stable, well rewarded career. Some want to care for people as health workers while others love the physical challenge to create the kind of precision work done in dentistry.
For Dr Effting, dentistry was the perfect fit for a career. “It’s physical, creative, social and interpersonal, fast changing, and I can own my own business. The profession has become highly inspirational, a perfect balance between art and science,” he says.
After graduating from Wits in 1981, he moved to Hout Bay the following year.
Today, with the advent of modern materials, equipment and techniques almost everything he learnt in university has changed, and his practice rarely works with removable dentures and traditional bridges anymore.
“We have evolved into the digital realm with the advent of intra-oral scanners, cad-cam (computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing) processes and cone-beam X-rays – similar to a CAT scan – that enables more accurate diagnosis. This technology now even enables us to design and mill a new tooth while the patient waits, and then fit it all in the same appointment.”
Adhesive, minimally invasive dentistry has changed the face of the profession, he says. “This enables us to restore teeth without reducing much and to create beautiful bonded composite restorations, ceramic overlays and veneers.”
Professor Myburgh says the dentistry curriculum has changed dramatically in response to advances in technology and materials, changing community needs, new techniques and health-promotion strategies and more.
“No more amalgam silver fillings – lots of tooth-coloured filling materials, implants, laser treatment, 3D printing and many others,” he says.
The most fantastic advances in the past decade, he says, include light-cured fissure sealants, tooth-coloured dental filling materials such as glass ionomers and composites, and also implants that allow missing teeth to be permanently replaced.
The downside is that these new techniques come at a cost.
Dr Effting says that with insurance not contributing to oral health-care, it pays to take preventative measures such as regular brushing and flossing and avoiding sugars and carbohydrates.
Professor Myburgh says tooth decay can be greatly reduced by removing sugar from the diet and by using fluoride toothpaste on your toothbrush twice daily.
To prevent gum disease, brush your gums and teeth daily, and do not smoke. Stopping smoking reduces almost all periodontal disease and also reduces the risk of mouth cancer.
Dr Effting and Professor Neil Myburgh were in the same class at dental school, and room-mates at Wits Mens’ Residence in their first year.