Dentistry is part medicine and part artistry. A good dentist needs both to bring patients teeth back to health and function. Cosmetics are opposed to health as some situations require sacrificing longterm health for cosmetics and some sacrificing cosmetics for health. This article offers a different philosophical perspective. A healthy simile is to be understood as a beautiful smile and visa versa.
Aristotle’s Conception of Form and Function
To understand the connection between health and beauty, we must understand the ideas of form and function. Aristotle considered the form of a thing to be the essential aspect of a thing’s being (identity). A tooth would still be a tooth even if some of its structure was replaced by amalgam or resin because it has the same form.
Most people think form as the 3D spacial contour or shape of a thing. Molars have cusps compared to the incisal edge of an incisor. However, form includes ratio (or composition). Think of the ratio of resin to filler comparing flowable to packable composite. Form also includes function (or mechanism). Teeth are used to eat and smile but the mechanism by which or how a tooth does its activity is through proper function.
Christine Korsgaard explains that function is important to a thing’s identity because we only have knowledge of a thing when we know how it works. Every layperson knows what teeth do, but only doctors know posselt’s envelope of function, mutually protected occlusion, etc. Dentists know how teeth work and bring diseased teeth back to health by restoring ideal form and function.
Ideals or Perfection
Varying attributes or properties all have an ideal or perfect state. Implants are more ideal (closer to a natural tooth) than bridges, generally speaking. We cannot conceive something better than an ideal or perfect state because perfection has no faults and cannot be further improved. Each smile has an ideal with respect to health and beauty.
Things are ideal or perfect with respect to the certain attribute or property of concern. Composite is prettier than amalgam but composite might not be ideal when it comes to other aspects (e.g., longevity). Since things vary in perfection with respect to kind, we must consider if the attribute of beauty conflicts with the attribute of health.
The Will Apprises Health and Beauty
Esthetic demands appear to conflict with the oral health. The patient favors a zirconia crown but a gold one wears the opposing the least. Ideal standards for heath and esthetics conflict when considering the subjective perspective of individual patients.
Subjective opinions don’t always contain objective truth, however. I may find something beautiful or healthy and you may not (a very common situation). We would get a logical contradiction if both of our opinions contained objective truth. Is there an objective conception of health or beauty and who’s opinions really matter when it comes to judging a smile?
Judgments concerning heath and beauty are evaluative (appraise value) and prescriptive (obligate agents). We use practical reason, the will, to make valid value judgments that other agents can recognize. Since practical reason involves both naturalistic rules (discovered in nature) and normative concepts (human-made), heath and beauty for humans is both grounded in reality and subjective.
Determining Health and Beauty
A being is healthy when it functions properly based on its purpose, what it is meant to do. We say a clock works by turning gears since it is meant to tell time. The purpose for a human being is determined by the human will. We do what we will (even if it was the will of others first). Thus, our own ends or purposes determine in part what is health for us since our proper function depends on our purposes. On the other hand, how a thing does what it does are subject to the laws of nature. The gears in a clock cannot work any such way to tell time. So, health is in part grounded by natural processes and not merely by personal opinion.
We must understand beauty in the same sense. In the article on smile design, we understood that dental esthetics depends on naturalistic and normative claims. Appeal for bilateral symmetry, found in many species, appears to be hardwired in the human brain. Humans also care about gender or racial norms established by society when thinking about beauty. Beauty has objective and subjective considerations.
Being (identity) for humans depend on the individual will. This is the human condition. We determine our own essence (who we are) in this world as we act upon who we want to be. Since humans grow and change according to how they choose to live life, they too have individual ideals or a perfect state. The ideal state for a human is necessarily what she individually wills to be, subject to the reality of nature.
We are now in a position to equate health with beauty.
Health for a person is what is alined with that person’s goals in life because proper function depends on purpose. Health (proper function) varies in a person so it has an ideal state. A thing is what it is best when it is in rightful health. Striving for ideal health is in part what we do to be our best selves as being is determined by how we choose to live life.
Our ideal self would be the most beautiful because it is logically contradictory to conceive something more perfect than the ideal of a thing. Thus, when we are in good health, we are beautiful. When we have a properly functioning mouth according to our desires, we have a beautiful smile. A beautiful smile is an objective judgment based on subjective aspirations in line with the science of dentistry.
Dentists use knowledge of function (how a thing works) to repair diseased teeth back to health. Good health is determined by the patient’s rational will and scientific principles of dentistry. To strive for ideal health is to also strive for beauty because when one is in best health one can logically only be in best esthetics.
Sometimes the patient does not have realistic goals or proper understanding of how teeth function. This is why cosmetics and oral health seem to clash. It is the role of the dentist to ground the patient’s expectations in reality. One must take note the the preceding article did not establish that beauty entails health; something that is esthetic still may not be healthy. Only through expression of the patient’s goals to an educated dentist can we have oral health. With oral health comes a beautiful smile.