Back in 2011, I was invited to offer an opinion article for a special issue of the Southern Association of Orthodontists News . Many others were similarly invited, including David Sarrett (dean of a new dental school), and the likes of Johnston, Joondeph, Lindauer, Sadowsky, Cangialosi, Kluemper, Beeman, Hartsfield, Huja, Trojan, Casko, and Will. At the time, there were many big issues on the table that were both disturbing and challenging. They included the opening of many new dental schools, problems related to the recruitment and retention of faculty, how many practitioners were needed, serving the underserved (ie, access to care), increasing the quality of dental education and scholarly accomplishment, inadequate dental school funding, the cost of education, and increasing student debt. The approach I took was to address the issue from the viewpoint of the student. The title of my article was “A daughter’s question,” and in that article, I told a personal story that will be retold here but for a different reason.
In 2008, my daughter was notified that she had been accepted into dental school. Before she accepted the invitation and sent in her deposit, she asked to meet with me over breakfast because she had some questions about dental school. Now I knew that she was concerned because having breakfast together was our time to talk seriously.
Of course, I accepted the invitation, but I was not really all that concerned. By that time in my career, I had been involved in dental education for many years and had a good idea of all the trials and tribulations associated with dental education. Over the years, I had been asked many questions, such as What’s dental school like? It is hard? Is it stressful? What goes on in anatomy class? Do you think I have the manual skills to be successful? Do you think that I can do the work? and many similar inquiries.
When we met, my daughter said that she really had only 1 question to ask and that was “Dad, will it be worth it?” After she asked that question, I was silent for a little while because I needed time to admire the quality of her question; I had never been asked that before, and I also needed time to formulate an appropriate response. After all, this was my daughter, and my answer needed to be honest, responsible, and correct. In response, I told her “At this point in time, I think you should go to dental school. I am not sure that I can say the same thing 5 years from now, but that is my answer right now.”
Well, she accepted the position, began her studies in 2009, and graduated from dental school in 2013. She practiced for a year before starting her residency in orthodontics. She graduated in 2016 and then joined an orthodontic practice in Kansas City, Mo.
After she had been practicing orthodontics for more than a year, then came my question to her: “After all that time, work, and money, can you tell me whether it was all worth it?” Here is her response: “After all the late nights studying, the anxiety of taking exams, and the heavy weight of student loan debt, it was worth it for me. I genuinely love the practice of orthodontics, getting to know my patients, and learning the art of elastic negotiations. I don’t know how to word this the way that I want, but what I want to convey is that if you love orthodontics, it is worth it. If you instead love the idea of a big salary, then maybe the sacrifice won’t seem worth it. I feel fortunate to go to a job every day that I really enjoy.” I take this to mean that some day, and in some ways, it might not be worth it, but that really depends on what you are looking for in life.
Of course, this is a feel-good story that is not scientific at all. Even so, it is true that orthodontics is a wonderful and fulfilling specialty, especially so when someone adds to or reinforces that feeling. A few words of praise, gratitude, or an inspirational story can mean a great deal, often much more than an alternative reward. As I think back, I was involved in treating a patient with a bilateral cleft palate beginning when he was just 3 months old. For decades, his mother would send me a Christmas card each year, with an enclosed picture of her increasingly handsome son. Now, every orthodontist I know has a similar story to tell that makes it all seem worthwhile and enjoyable. So, when the day seems long and the work hard, think about your story, smile, and move on… enjoying your life’s choice every day.
Good morning. Something to brighten up your morning.
One of my older patients has a little granddaughter who was “inspecting” her grandmother’s mouth and teeth. Grandmother has a multicolored upper Hawley retainer that she wears at night faithfully. When her granddaughter looked in her mouth, she exclaimed, “Bubbie, you have something beautiful in your mouth.” Little things like this help us to get through the hype and “glitz” of DIY and all the other “fluff” that is swirling about our specialty.
I have been doing orthodontics for 45 years now…45 years. I look forward to working with our patients every day I am in the office. Working with youngsters or oldsters (Bubbie), makes it all worthwhile. I would not change what I have done or what I will continue to do.