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Interview: "I am on a crusade against overly aggressive cosmetic dentists"

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Interview: "I am on a crusade against overly aggressive cosmetic dentists"
Some people collect stamps or coins. However, Dr. Michael Zuk has a rather unusual passion: He keeps a collection of celebrity teeth. The 49-year-old general dentist has been practicing for more than 25 years and leaped into fame when he bought one of John Lennon's molars for $30,000 at an auction last year. He recently added Elvis Presley's dental crown to his collection. Zuk publicly advocates for a more conservative approach to cosmetic dentistry and holistic training for dentists. Dental Tribune Online spoke with Zuk, who is also an author and marketing consultant, besides running a successful practice in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.

Dental Tribune: Dr. Zuk, please would you introduce yourself to our readers by telling them something about your background?
Dr. Michael Zuk: I was born in New York City and moved to Canada as a child. I graduated from dental school in 1986 and set up practice with a classmate and a second friend from grade school. As a child, I enjoyed art and science, and wanted a career that would not be back-breaking work. I constantly work on inventions, like High Speed Braces for faster orthodontic treatment, dental marketing and assorted development projects. I am a consultant to several dental marketing programs and run a successful group dental practice in Red Deer.

Why and when did you decide to go into dentistry?
I always respected my dentist and felt it would be an honest career that would combine my interests in art and science. In high school, I decided the tooth business would be one of my top choices. I had no idea that dentistry would expand into such a revolutionary profession.

You are pursuing a treatment approach that combines cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics. Please could you describe the advantages of this combination in comparison with other approaches, and explain why you have devoted yourself to it?
In dentistry, it is sometimes difficult to combine different disciplines owing to the training. Most cosmetic dentists try to straighten teeth without braces, and most orthodontic practitioners do not think veneers are a top treatment for crooked, healthy teeth. I promote the use of composite rather than porcelain in combination with orthodontics, which is basically a hybrid that can take on some very challenging smile problems, such as people with crooked and worn teeth. This means a patient can be treated for a fraction of the cost of a full-mouth set of veneers. In addition, less enamel is drilled away. Shorter treatment times with braces make this idea more acceptable because wearing orthodontic braces can become a nuisance.

I have taken advanced treatment-planning courses and have found that almost every situation can be improved with some changes in tooth position and replacement of worn enamel.

You are known to be a critic of cosmetic dentistry, although you started out working as a cosmetic dentist yourself. Was there a key moment that caused you to change direction?
Once a very attractive young lady came in with a crooked tooth, and she insisted that I veneer it straight instead of refer her to an orthodontist. She looked like Penelope Cruz but I could not convince her to get braces so she left the office. At the time, I did not have the orthodontic training, but I knew people were turned off by the idea of years in braces so now we try to reduce the time to months, when we can, with modified styles of care and different goals.

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