I have recently finished reading a wonderful book titled ‘The Golden Age of Orthodontics’ by a senior Californian orthodontist, Dr Norman Wahl. It was a true delight: honest, passionate and thorough analysis of the evaluation of orthodontic specialty by the person who himself participated in the process since the graduation in 1963.
The author has defined and described three main periods in the formation of the specialty:
• 1930-50 From the Depression to the Golden Age
• 1950-70 The Golden Age
• 1970-80s Decline
He has also illustrated the present situation with all of its disagreeable features: tremendous student loans, deficit in academic staff, the encroachment of teledentistry, etc.
The book teems with interesting historic facts and eloquent quotations to make you believe that not much has really changed:
“We are again just where we were 30 or more years ago. These men today merely ‘straighten teeth’.”
Weinberger B.W., AJO-DO, 1956
“One of the most perplexing problems is the continuous and explosive appearance of various course, short and long, giving the non-orthodontist training in orthodontics.”
Hubert J. Bell, AAO president, 1974
As you could imagine, the book has just a few insights into orthodontics practicing outside of the US. However, being born, raised and studied in the (former) Soviet Union I was constantly inadvertently comparing described landscape with the one that is familiar to me. Interestingly, I found some similarities.
I think the present situation in the former USSR is close to the US realities of 1920-1930s: economy is stagnating, most specialists are trained by preceptors or by short courses, and premolar extractions are still practicing by a minority. On a bright side, since 2000 we see a positive fertility rate in most of the former Soviet republics, however not that pronounced as the American post-war baby boom.
As you might have guessed, I want to speculate if the golden decades are coming?
In my opinion, for the most part it will depend on the courage and entrepreneurial skills of the specialists. I believe we now have an outstanding post-Soviet generation of young orthodontists. It is a rather small group of people, but their ability to practice in harsh economic conditions with no orthodontic infrastructure is remarkable.
Other two vitally important factors are the willingness of the major supply houses and international orthodontic organizations to support the development of the specialty and the willingness of the Soviet bureaucracy to let them do so.
If all three factors merge together, in the not-to-distant future we will have orthodontics flourishing across the previously unknown for the specialty parts of the world. If not, the phoenix generation of post-Soviet orthodontists will go back to ashes and spread around more economically appealing and orthodontically-advanced countries.
Unfortunately, I do not have a crystal ball to predict the future. Do you?