And not just any teeth. “A master ceramist creates highly esthetic, all-ceramic prostheses,” he says. “It’s all attention to detail, but you can’t miss the basics either. When you talk to someone at a conversational distance, the minute micro-esthetics I put into each tooth aren’t really seen, but they create the overall appearance, and that’s what counts.” Making each tooth is as much a science as it is an art. Mr. Tran considers the dozens of shades of powdered porcelain his paint and the tooth his canvas. To create the teeth, he first makes a diagnostic wax model, which is a mock-up of the patient’s new smile. He heats hard wax, similar to a dense candle, to mold each tooth. “It’s a template for the patients to see how their new teeth will feel and work,” says Mr. Tran. Once the wax version is approved by the patient and dentist, Viet makes the final product with porcelain. As he sculpts the teeth, he refers to models showing different shapes of teeth– squared, rounded and pointed.
Mr. Tran creates teeth by using a process known as “stacking” porcelain. He mixes porcelain powder with water and uses his horse-hair brushes to apply the porcelain, one layer on top of another. The process is repeated until it resembles a tooth from the core to the surface.
“I know what a tooth looks like, but just like famous artists who started by copying details of other artists’ work, I need models on hand to get an idea of a more squared look or a rounded edge. Once you’ve mastered how to copy a tooth, you can go from there and alter it how you want,” Mr. Tran explains. The tooth then is fired in an oven like a tiny piece of pottery. Throughout the process, working closely with the dentist is a necessity, and one reason Mr. Tran’s career is a good fit for him. It merges two of his passions – dentistry and art. As a biology major at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., Mr. Tran’s love for science led him to consider a career in dentistry. “I really liked dentistry, but didn’t think I would like working in the clinical setting,” he says. He tested the waters by working his way through college as a dental assistant. Mr. Tran also studied ceramics, pottery and sculpture, spending more time in the ceramics lab than the chemistry lab. When he decided not to pursue dentistry, a friend told him he should consider dental ceramics. “I didn’t see it, but he connected the two – the art and dentistry. I didn’t see what was possible as far as high-end esthetics,” he says. After earning a master dental ceramist certificate from the University of California Los Angeles Center for Esthetic Dentistry, Mr. Tran moved cross-country to Augusta for the unique opportunity at MCG. It’s rare for a master ceramist to work in a school setting, Mr. Tran says. Of the eight ceramists in his class at UCLA, he’s the only one who took a job in academia. The rest work in private labs. Mr. Tran’s position is part of a five-year, $6.2 million contract signed in 2006 between the school and Nobel Biocare. He will be a part of the new Center for Esthetic and Implant Dentistry, slated to open in the summer. “The Nobel Biocare contract has allowed for the new technology in my lab. The equipment we’re able to work with here is much more common in private, higher-end labs than in a school setting,” Mr. Tran says. “We’re on the frontier of what’s happening in dental esthetics.” n
Community Partnerships ANNUAL REPORT EDITION Medical College of Georgia WINTER 08