I was a swimmer and somewhat of a gymnast in high school, and earned my way through college and dental school as a lifeguard. Let’s just say that ball-and-stick sports either never caught my eye or my eyes and hands weren’t ready for them.
So either by choice or default, I ended up in individual sports that didn’t require much team participation or catching, hitting or watching some object. I don’t know if that’s because of my attention span—which has now turned into a life filled with 15-minute increments—or just my ability (or lack thereof) to focus at something and hit, catch or watch it. Whatever the case, for some lucky reason, I’ve settled into a career that suits me just fine.
And while all of my friends have had this replaced, that repaired or have given up on exercising, I’m still able to run an occasional 5K and raise a dumbbell over my head.
(I must admit, however, there are some noises that weren’t there as recently as a few years back.)
Not particularly artistic, I am able to reproduce what has been taught to me—namely, “make the teeth line up and fit”—and continue to work to perfect the outcome. The beauty of orthodontics is that you get to constantly reevaluate, perfect and hopefully not retreat too often after organizing a system to streamline your life and the care you deliver.
New situations require new learning
After selling my practice in Tucson, Arizona, several years ago, I left my business partner behind so I could retire in nearby Scottsdale … only to start up again. Many of you may have heard or read of my travails in this column—it’s been quite a journey.
Seasoned (old) orthodontists like me take a team, location and referral base for granted when they have a legacy practice. I’ve had to learn new marketing, management and mechanical techniques to keep up with the new trends and demographics—and have actually greatly enjoyed doing so!
First and foremost is the staff or team. I’d been spoiled for more than 25 years; my workdays had been so well organized by the admin staff that I could leave for a week or two and not have a single sticky note on my desk when I returned. I always felt confident that not only were all fires put out but also the practice had moved ahead as well. There is something to coming back to the office, looking at the day sheets and seeing that a number of “pendings” had been contacted and started while I was away.
What does this have to do with golf?
As I mentioned earlier, I was not a ball-and-stick kind of an athlete, but when we moved to Scottsdale, my wife and I decided to take up the sport because of the weather, the abundance of local courses and the fact we finally had the time available. At my stage in life, trying to start up a new sport is as challenging as starting a new practice: Both require getting new skills, teams and equipment.
Fortunately, I love challenges.
Honing a skill and
Non-golfers, please bear with me! Just like orthodontics, golf requires new language, skills and equipment and management. When I started, my goal was to not have to use the same club two times in a row from tee-off to sinking the putt. Thankfully, I’ve moved beyond that rather humble goal—but again, just like orthodontics, once you understand more, there is more to consider when striking your next shot.
I love it when people say they don’t like to watch golf on TV because it’s boring. Just like the general dentist who compares orthodontics to their lab course in school where they bent a wire and made a retainer. Orthodontics and golf get more complicated the more you play, practice and study.
Diagnosis takes on new meaning after you learn new skills that ultimately lead to new advanced treatment techniques. Just like golf, you’re required to look at not only hitting the ball but also the many other factors in consideration when embarking on your plan: distance, wind, elevation and surrounding landscape. Do you want to err on the long or short side, go for it or lay up?
I was amazed that as my skill set in golf got more perfected, I realized why the bunkers, hazards and slopes had been placed in the areas that they are: Once I became the “average” golfer, I was playing into exactly what the architect had in mind. (Namely, hitting into those hazards.)
Practice in orthodontics is just as complicated and influenced by hazards and trouble. We learn about high and low angle, lip position and cuspid width; patient and parent personalities also play into the game. As our skill set expands, we incorporate more diagnostic information into our treatment plan, including incisor exposure, gingival contours and buccal corridors. Don’t forget the TMJ, airway and muscle analysis.
You can’t step up to a ball and just swing, and you can’t step up to a patient and just start placing brackets.
Just like golf, where often your score doesn’t reflect your quality play or skills learned during the round, there are many days in orthodontics where you leave the office with little production, yet you feel like you accomplished quite a bit and the practice was running well. You know that in time you’ll be rewarded for your patience, skill and judgment. Patients were brushing their teeth, the new patients who were not ready to start were placed on recall, and a couple who faded out or left last month to get second opinions called back to start. (As we know, sometimes you wish they hadn’t!)
Lastly, there are many who say that you can tell a lot about people after playing a round of golf with them. Golfers are required to keep their own score, use an honor system and report violations even when not being witnessed. Much like orthodontics, where we know the patient many times only wants the front teeth straightened, it is up to us to do what is right to create not only a beautiful “social six” but enhance their lifetime health with proper occlusion and function.
Keep your eye on the ball!