Dr. Michael Gunson had some unique creative influences in his life before he studied dentistry and found his calling in facial reconstruction.
The oral and maxillofacial surgeon earned his bachelor’s degree in French literature, immersing himself in the language, philosophies and artistic style of writers like 19th century symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire and absurdism pioneer Albert Camus – innovators whose prose led him to “discover connections between different truths” and think more multidimensionally in his later studies at dental and medical school at UCLA.
As an instructor in the “Interdisciplinary Case Management” seminar, the newest member of Spear Resident Faculty provides an OMFS perspective that, combined with the expertise of fellow faculty members Drs. Greggory Kinzer and Rebecca Bockow, helps clinicians improve the interdisciplinary cohesion for a successful referral process.
Like Dr. Frank Spear, who taught in the interdisciplinary seminar for more than 10 years, Dr. Gunson has long committed himself to mentoring dentists of all backgrounds in varying stages of their careers. In addition to his busy practice schedule, Dr. Gunson has lectured internationally and authored numerous research-based articles on orthognathic surgery, facial esthetics, obstructive sleep apnea, and the treatment of TMJ arthritis and condylar resorption.
But for him, it has never been another routine lecture.
“I don’t think you can keep it to yourself, the things you discover,” said Dr. Gunson, whose world-renowned practice in Santa Barbara, California, is limited to facial esthetics and reconstruction.
“Part of that connectivity, to get to the ‘aha’ moment, requires that you interact with other people ... and for me, teaching is not just sharing, but interacting,” he said. “I don’t like lecturing, per se. I love teaching because of that interchange.”
Encouraging an openness to new ideas
Like other Spear faculty, Dr. Gunson has encouraged seminar attendees to explore alternative perspectives to become a more well-rounded dentist in today’s age of waning patient commitment to oral health.
Dr. Bockow, who was named to Resident Faculty just prior to Dr. Gunson, said “Esthetic Dilemmas” now “incorporates soft tissue, lips, gums, face and airway” for both general practitioners and specialists in a format that is truly unique in the industry.
She and her fellow seminar instructors felt the addition of Dr. Gunson would preserve the pioneering esthetic lessons Dr. Spear originally developed with Dr. Kinzer, while adding an OMFS perspective on how to address the complex facial and skeletal issues that lead to daily challenges in the dental practice.
“When you have an interdisciplinary plan that includes an orthodontist and a surgeon not only can you give the patient amazing esthetics, but you can change their whole face,” said Dr. Bockow, a dual-certified periodontist and orthodontist.
“When you can understand those skeletal patterns and you know how to game plan to fix it, it’s incredibly exciting and powerful,” she said.
Dr. Bockow added that Dr. Gunson has a visionary approach to esthetic dentistry in how he rapidly assesses how a patient's tongue and lips work, while thinking about airway, and other factors like cheek support function and jaw joints – and how those factors relate to occlusion.
“He’s really great at breaking down complex ideas and teaching it in a way that anyone can understand, and walking the audience through his vision,” Dr. Bockow said.
While immersed in his French Lit undergrad studies at Brigham Young University, Dr. Gunson completed all his undergraduate prerequisites to eventually attend medical school. He minded his father’s warning that he might “never make enough money” teaching French, which he did briefly as a college instructor in Utah following a two-year Mormon mission to Paris.
That thirst for knowledge inevitably carried over into his clinical career and private surgical practice, in addition to how he inspires collaboration among various dental disciplines.
A dichotomy of influences
In “Exile and the Kingdom,” Camus cautioned that a science-obsessed, rapidly urbanized society had led his adopted city of Paris to become “the city of order in short, right angles, square rooms, rigid men” – a rigidity of thought that could prohibit modern man from connecting with greater truths, and maintaining balance with nature.
Like other Spear faculty and pioneers in the dental industry, Dr. Gunson often refers to the “dogma” of many dental lessons as detrimental to clinicians in an era marred by general patient apathy toward dentistry that fails to present a clear value.
The “Esthetic Dilemmas” seminar gives dentists strategies to take on more cases where patients present with their ideal vision for their smile. Attendees learn how to evaluate, treatment plan and present esthetic dentistry to patients with a stronger sense of how to address problems of tooth position, midlines, incisal edge position, incisal planes and occlusal planes.
“We provide such a broad approach, it attracts dentists who want to learn, who are not necessarily dogmatic but are interested in discovering truth,” Dr. Gunson said, “and that breeds an openness of discussion.” - Dr. Michael Gunson on the “Esthetic Dilemmas” seminar
Dr. Gunson said he appreciates Camus perhaps more than other writers of the existentialist ilk because he “was open to nature and let nature teach him,” and that he was constantly in search of meaning in the human experience.
Yet in Baudelaire, in rhyme and meter of texts like “Les Fleurs du Mal” (Flowers of Evil), Dr. Gunson discovered a writer who wrote about beauty with uncanny surgical precision.
According to the Academy of American Poets, Baudelaire’s “dark, introspective, multifarious worlds revealed subjects and styles that had been previously barred from poetic inclusion,” which led him to be “alternately celebrated and condemned as a heretical and even obscene innovator.”
In his “Hymn to Beauty,” the poet begins by asking, “Did you spring out of heaven or the abyss …?”
Dr. Gunson said those philosophical questions motivated him academically, resonating deeply in his life and in his eventual practice – helping him to “put together all those things that would otherwise appear disparate.”
“When I found that I could do that even with maxillofacial, and dentistry in general, it was exciting,” he said.
Functional esthetics in focus at Spear Summit 2019
Dr. Gunson's first foray into Spear was speaking at Spear Summit 2015. He garnered positive feedback for his lecture on facial diagnosis and 3D virtual surgical treatment planning.
The presentation explored how “the face, airway and bite are inextricably linked in facial diagnosis and treatment planning.” He introduced many in attendance to the concept of virtual surgical planning, or VSP, which “removes the need for articulated models and cephalometrics and the errors associated with them.”
“First of all, I didn’t realize there would be a couple thousand people there, so that was exciting and nerve wrecking,” Dr. Gunson said. “It helped me understand that I was onto something.”
For Spear Summit 2019, which takes place Sept. 19-21, Dr. Gunson's presentation is titled, “Why Do My Patient's Temperomandibular Joints Look Like That? And Why Should I Care?”
The lecture is intended to show clinicians how to “prevent compression, remove compression and modulate systematic inflammatory factors” and understand the process so they can “improve patient comfort and prevent negative bite, facial and airway changes.”
The additions of Drs. Bockow and Gunson to “Esthetic Dilemmas” have also led to positive feedback from attendees, including specialists who stand to benefit from attending with their referring doctors to identify what to look for to ensure optimal patient outcomes. That sometimes requires seeing things through the eyes of the interdisciplinary teammate.
“If you can help them see new things, teach them observational strategies for what to look for, then they can use the tools they already have to make a difference,” Dr. Gunson said. “Being didactive is bad.”
Drs. Kinzer and Spear used to cover the material of all dental disciplines in “Esthetic Dilemmas.” While their content was always well-received and reviewed, Dr. Kinzer said the addition of such an influential OMFS makes the seminar even more powerful.
“(Dr. Gunson) really thinks about it from an occlusion perspective, from a joint perspective, from an airway perspective,” Dr. Kinzer said. “It’s pretty unique to find an educator that can put all those pieces together.”