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Interview: ‘We are specialists in saving the natural dentition’

AAE President Gary R. Hartwell, DDS, MS (DTI/Photo AAE)
Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Fred Michmershuizen, DTA

Tue. 2 July 2013


In an interview with Endo Tribune conducted during the recent AAE Annual Session in Honolulu, incoming AAE President President Gary R. Hartwell, DDS, MS, discussed his background in the U.S. military, his work as an endodontic educator, AAE initiatives like Root Canal Awareness Week, and the association’s theme of “Striving for Perfection” for the coming year.

Please introduce yourself to our readers. What is your background, and where do you work?
I’ve spent my endodontic career in the military and in education. I grew up on a farm in West Virginia and was the first in my family to go to college. I earned my DDS from West Virginia University School of Dentistry in 1966 and began my active duty military career with the U.S. Army Dental Corps in 1967. I served as a general dentist from 1967 to 1971, and from 1968 to 1969 served in Vietnam. Upon my return from Vietnam I had the opportunity to work with an endodontist and decided that this was the specialty of dentistry I wanted to pursue.

I graduated from the U. S. Army Dental Corps Endodontic Residency Program in 1973 and earned a MS degree in special studies (oral biology) the following year from George Washington University. In 1980 I completed the certification process and became a diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics.

During my 20-year military career I served as the director of the endodontic residency programs at both Madigan Army Medical Center and Eisenhower Army Medical Center. I also was the consultant in endodontics to the surgeon general of the army from 1983 to 1987. After my military career, I became a full-time endodontic educator in 1987, serving in numerous positions at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, until my retirement in 2003. Not being satisfied with retirement, I accepted the position of professor and chair of the Department of Endodontics at the New Jersey Dental School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark, N.J., where I also served as director of the UMDNJ Postgraduate Program in Endodontics. I held those positions until my retirement at the beginning of this year.

What made you decide to go into endodontics?
As a young man, I admired two local dentists who practiced in a small town near where I grew up. I observed them, respected what they did and felt a calling to join the dental profession. After returning from Vietnam and having the opportunity to work closely with an endodontist, I was eager to get in on the ground floor of what at that time was the newest specialty in dentistry.

Is there one thing that you like best about practicing in the specialty?
Probably the one thing that has kept my interest in the specialty for such a long period of time has been the observation that each tooth I treat presents its own unique challenges. Teeth may present with similar internal morphology, but no two teeth are exactly the same.

On a personal note, is there something that people might be surprised to know about you?
I was once an avid runner and had a string of running 6,000 straight days. Age and wear and tear have now converted me to a “walker” rather than a “runner.”

As incoming AAE president, can you tell us what’s in store for the coming year?
I have chosen “Striving for Perfection” as my theme for the year. All AAE members should be striving for perfection in every procedure we perform, on every patient we treat. In the past 20-plus years we have experienced multiple technological, procedural and material advances that allow us to provide better and more efficient care for our patients. I do not want us to become complacent — because there are still advances in technology to be made, new procedures to be developed and new materials to be discovered — and this gives me hope for an exciting future.

I believe in organized dentistry as the “mother ship” for all dentists, and I encourage endodontists to consider becoming involved at the local, state, regional and/or national level. It’s important for endodontists to be at the table when issues arise that have a potential effect on our specialty.

Recently, AAE wrapped up its latest annual Root Canal Awareness Week. How did that go? Do AAE members feel that such initiatives give the public have a better understanding of root canal therapy, and of endodontists?
The AAE has celebrated Root Canal Awareness Week for seven years now, and I believe it does help the public better understand root canal treatment and the role of endodontists. While most patients come to us through referrals from their general dentists, it is an important part of the AAE’s vision to dispel the myths surrounding the procedure. Our goal during Root Canal Awareness Week is to educate patients on the importance of saving the natural teeth and how endodontists can do so comfortably through root canal and other endodontic treatment. It’s also a time for our members to reach out in their individual communities to deliver those same messages.

Is there anything you would like GPs and specialists to know about the AAE?
I think it is important for the AAE to help educate the profession about endodontic case assessment and treatment planning, and for endodontists to demonstrate partnership and guidance. The AAE offers a multitude of clinical resources for the entire dental profession and I hope that all practitioners take advantage of the information we provide to enhance patient care and save teeth.

Do you have anything you would like to add?
I am grateful to the AAE membership for giving me the opportunity to serve as president for the upcoming year. I look forward to seeing our specialty continue to move forward and for endodontists being seen as specialists in saving the natural dentition.


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