Henry Husemann, College of Dentistry
The cartoon cat Garfield, praying hands, roses, even The University of Iowa’s own tiger hawk—Henry Husemann has painted them all.
On the molars of dental patients.
Since 2004, Husemann has worked as the senior certified dental technician for the Department of Prosthodontics in the UI College of Dentistry, providing educational and technical support for the graduate prosthodontics program and the department’s clinical service plan. On occasion, Husemann is asked to “tattoo” the ceramic crowns for patients who want to turn their molars into masterpieces.
“I do not get a lot of calls for it, but when I do, it is rather enjoyable,” Husemann says. “Being an artist is a gift and I like to share it with others by making the highest quality aesthetic teeth out of porcelain for patients whenever possible. The tattoo is an extra touch.”
When Husemann is not working at the University, he and his wife spend time operating a private laboratory in their own home in Tipton, Iowa, after beginning their own business in Omaha, Neb., in 1992. Currently working to obtain his master dental technician diploma through the American Society of Master Dental Technologists and New York University, Husemann expects to complete his education in spring 2009.
At 46, between his job at the University, running his own lab, studying to obtain his diploma, and raising six children, Husemann doesn’t seem to have a moment to spare. He talked with fyi about his role as both a scientist and an artist.
Why did you choose a career in dental ceramics?
When I was in grade school, I was always drawing, painting, and sculpting. Thanks to my parents’ support in high school, this progressed to having my own art show. I wanted to continue with that, so when I checked into the U.S. Air Force, I told them I was an artist. I was told my talents were needed in the dental laboratory field. I did a tremendous amount of training and continued my education, and in 1987 I received my certification for both crown and bridge and ceramics. Afterward, I went through advanced courses the military offered: intense in focus, lasting two to three months long, eight hours a day, five days a week. I now travel to Europe—Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein—each year for my continuing education. I’m not as good as I want to be and I’m continually pushing myself to become better. It’s a never-ending quest and it’s a lot of fun.
What’s a typical day like for you?
At the University, I teach in the postdoctoral prosthodontic residency program. I support the residents and faculty, assisting with complex cases such as implants and full-mouth reconstruction. I provide patients with good care and provide residents and faculty with the knowledge that I’ve gained in the last 28 years.
Explain the process of making a crown.
The whole process starts with the dentist preparing a treatment plan on the patient and, if they decide the patient needs a crown, they will prepare the tooth, take an impression and write a prescription. They will ask me to design the crown a certain way. I’ll pour the impression from a certain type of stone and make a replication of the mouth. From there, I’ll use different types of wax to sculpt a tooth. Once I get the tooth to the correct contours, size and design, I go through the same process that a jeweler would in order to design and create a ring. The tooth is burned out in a special oven and cast in what is considered a high-noble gold. The molten metal is forced into the hot mold. After it cools, we break away the investment and there lies the crown within.
From that point, we clean it up and rebuild the shape to resemble a natural tooth with various colors within a porcelain system. There are literally hundreds of combinations of colors that we can use to mimic a natural tooth. You use a brush to stack porcelain and, using special liquids, mix it together to the consistency of wet sand. Then, like you were building a sand castle, you build it into the shape you want. You fire it into the kiln and when it comes out it looks like glass.
Do you see yourself as a scientist or an artist?
Both, actually. It’s a love for science and a love for art and nature. Every day I’m using knowledge to mix colors, work with materials, and manipulate materials so they’ll do what you want them to do. This involves understanding the physical properties of different materials in order to choose the correct firing parameters in the kiln. I also must know if I can apply porcelain to a particular structure—you can’t just apply one type of porcelain to any type of structure. Each one has its own abilities and its own compatibility with different materials.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I enjoy seeing what can be done for the patient. It’s truly a team effort from the dentist, assistant, and ceramist. Each patient presents his or her own needs and desires, and we in the College of Dentistry must be prepared to deliver. We work together to create optimal aesthetics and optimal results for the patient. A person’s smile can be rather important to them. When a patient arrives to the clinic with decay or discoloration of their teeth, or they’ve always been embarrassed of their smile because their teeth are in a disorderly arrangement, we can give them a complete new look and they are extremely grateful. They’ll walk out the door with a new smile on their face.
What do you find most challenging about your career?
When I design and create, it’s always challenging to have my work changed or altered. There are three concepts of what aesthetics should look like: my own concept, the dentist’s, and the patient’s. Somewhere in there, things are going to get changed. We are all going to meet in the middle and come up with a result that the patient and the dentist will approve. Having one’s art changed by another hand is always difficult, but it is necessary and you must adapt to it.
What was your best vacation?
Actually, it was our honeymoon—17 years later because we began our family first. When the children became older, we finally got our chance to go. My wife and I took an extended trip to Europe; it was about 17 or 18 days. We traveled to six countries including Germany and Hungary. The coolest place was Lake Como and the small village of Bellagio in northern Italy. It was gorgeous.
By Stacie Carpenter