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Volume 25 , Issue 6
November/December 2005

Farewell to Professor Peter Schärer (May 17, 1933–December 22, 2004)

Carlo Marinello, Dr Med Dent, MS / Urs Belser, Prof, Dr Med Dent

Professor Peter Schärer was able to have his dream of a sorrow-free retirement fulfilled only for a short time. He passed away after a long illness on December 22, 2004, at the age of 71.

We, as representatives of Peter Schärer’s numerous students, would like to memorialize him by presenting the highlights of his long professional career and academic successes. But while looking back on his brilliant career as a teacher, clinician, and researcher, we should also take the opportunity to make a few very personal observations about Peter Schärer, who was a unique man, an extraordinary personality with the rough edges of utter honesty, charisma, and the mind of a visionary.

After studying dentistry at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, Peter Schärer spent the first part of his assistantship with Professor E. Dolder, who also supervised his 1961 dissertation, which piqued Schärer’s interest in continued education and research. Between 1963 and 1965, he participated in the postgraduate program in periodontology with Professor H. Zander at the Eastman Dental Center at Rochester, New York, where he received the internationally renowned Orban Balint Prize of the American Academy of Periodontology and earned a Master of Science degree. Neurophysiology also fascinated Schärer, which, combined with his interest in periodontology, gave rise to his now classic publications with Stallard and Zander. Schärer’s trailblazing publications on occlusion and bruxism were written during the following year, which he spent in research with Professor Y. Kawamura at Osaka University in Japan. Without doubt, it was these 4 years abroad that had a decisive influence on his later work—not only in dentistry, but far beyond.

After his return to Switzerland, Peter Schärer first served as associate professor at the Clinic for Crown and Bridge Prosthodontics of the University of Berne, Switzerland, where he attained his venia legendi (Habilitation) under Professor E. Jahn. In 1972, he was appointed full professor at the Department of Fixed Prosthodontics and Dental Materials at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Until his retirement in the fall of 2000, he was director of the Center of Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. In addition to his academic and research work, Peter Schärer served his university in numerous administrative capacities: several times, and over many years, as president of what was then referred to as the Professional College of the Dental Institute; from 1994 until the spring of 2002, as director of the Center of Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery; and as dean (and later senior dean) of the medical faculty in 1985. In his more than 30 years as full professor at the University of Zurich, Dr Schärer kept a high profile as an avid teacher, extraordinary clinician, and innovative research scientist. Dr Schärer was also well known for his fascinating Thursday night clinical demonstrations, his Monday evening seminars that were highlights in the professional development of any assistant because of his sharp-eyed and critical evaluations, the clinical research projects that brought together assistants not only professionally but also personally, and his active support of opportunities to present research results internationally.

Schärer’s basic clinical philosophy, which called for a holistic approach to restorative treatment with an emphasis on biological factors, found its expression in numerous books, articles, and attractive compendia. If the success of a university teacher is measured by how he or she promotes the careers of young academics, Schärer succeeded beyond all expectations. The undersigned authors—all full professors arising from the “Peter Schärer school”—are only but four of the numerous professors who have benefited from his teaching. The gratitude and loyalty of his co-workers was something he was able to accept and enjoy to the very end of his days. He was also proud of the fact that many representatives of our generation are recognized not only for their own achievements but also as “students of Schärer.”

Generations of dental students, clinical and research assistants, clinicians in private practice, and dental technicians were able to participate in his clinic’s success. It was his idea of a special partnership with dental technology that Schärer fiercely promoted, resulting in a level of quality being attained in this field—especially in the Zurich region—that is internationally renowned. He was also the founder of the Academy for Dental and Occlusal Rehabilitation (ADOR), a unique association of cooperating dentists and dental technologists meeting regularly to exchange knowledge and report their experiences. The prominent international reputation of Swiss dental technology is a reflection of his contributions.

Following his appointment to full professorship, Peter Schärer was a visionary when it came to recognizing new developments that might achieve clinical relevance, shaping and promoting esthetic restorative dentistry—including biomaterials and especially ceramics—and dental implantology untiringly and in an exemplary fashion. Along with John McLean and Ronald Goldstein, he was one of the true founding fathers of esthetic dentistry.

This was true not only in Switzerland, but also in other countries, particularly the US, where he, one of the dedicated dentists from Europe with a perfect command of English, had many friends and gained great renown and respect with his intensely active presentations and his contributions at congresses, year after year. For three decades, he was one of the most reliable speakers at the annual meeting of the various prosthodontic academies each February in Chicago. His presentations were famous not only for their scientific content, but also for his spontaneous and often humorous style. The international acclaim for Schärer’s achievements and for his leading role as a promoter of restorative dentistry manifested itself not only in the form of numerous prizes and awards, but also in the many presidencies of renowned academic associations: the European Academy of Gnathology, the American College of Prosthodontists, the International College of Prosthodontists, and the European Academy of Esthetic Dentistry.

Peter Schärer’s unrivaled openness to new ideas and his own professional charisma brought “Zurich prosthodontics” global acclaim. Upon hearing of Schärer’s death, Professor Gerald Chiche of Louisiana State University spoke of his “wonderful contribution to dentistry” and called his prosthodontics department “the most extraordinary ever created in the world.”

He invited all notable figures in restorative dentistry worldwide to hold presentations and courses in Switzerland within the framework of the so-called Club of 1,000, the extended assistant education concept that was his favorite project and that he nurtured with dedication for more than 30 years. This openness to outside influences not only greatly promoted the development of Schärer’s own department, but also contributed greatly to the leading global position of his Center of Dentistry and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Peter Schärer has demonstrated gifts, energies, and ambitions beyond what most of the best have to offer, the combination of which can best be summarized as “leadership.” He was not only an untiring and disciplined doer and a success-oriented clinician, but also a strict yet charismatic teacher and discussion partner. As a coach, he was excellent at promoting a playful yet very effective spirit of competition among his assistants that not only promoted creativity within the clinic, but also attracted excellent talent from outside. He demanded excellence not only of himself, but also of all his students and collaborators. He was a stout defender of the merit principle not only in a professional but also in a rhetorical and communicative sense. He loved and craved heated professional discussion; he was hard but fair in his judgment and able to accept hard judgments himself.

The apparently rough professional shell of Peter Schärer concealed a soft, highly sensitive core, a man of loving paternal generosity who enjoyed the good things in life—characteristics known not only to his family, but also to a small circle of his closest co-workers. One friend remarked, “For me the best thing was getting to know him as a person. He always sounded gruff, but he had a heart of gold. He was an outstanding professional, a bon vivant and a gourmet in the same person.”

During the time of Peter Schärer’s illness, we were privileged to be in contact with him to the very end. A deep hiatus in his work was the definite end of his patient treatments, but he stayed active, enjoying the numerous invitations to speak or moderate at events and receive many awards. He also saw his final clinical innovation brought to market by cooperation with the Swiss Federal Institue of Technology at Zurich (ETH)—the use of zirconia in restorative medicine. During this time his legendary broad education, his versatility, and especially his keen interest in history and politics became all the more visible, with his mental strength maintained perfectly to the end. These activities helped him occasionally to forget his medical diagnosis and allowed us to enjoy his unique gifts. Peter Schärer’s success required his perseverance and sacrifice—and also that of his family! Along with the many students, colleagues, and friends whom he accompanied throughout their careers, whom he gave the great gift of knowing the joy of being a dentist, and for whom he helped turn restorative thinking into reality, we thank his wife, Saiko, and his two daughters, Lili and Isabelle, for helping us benefit from Peter Schärer’s success.

We hope that the personal and professional philosophy of Peter Schärer, his dedication to restorative dentistry, and the many personal memories will live on within us for a long time to come.

Carlo Marinello, Dr Med Dent, MS Urs Belser, Prof, Dr Med Dent

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