The limits of tongue

I have recently been asked by a colleague to explain why do I use English language for professional communication? This is a reasonable question since my first language is Russian. I know it way better and speak much clearer. However, I can’t help feeling that my mother tongue is not suited well for orthodontic purposes. I wrote about this issue three years ago and am going to return to it now. At the moment, I am having a long railroad trip across Russia. So I am in the right mood to reflect on Russian, English and where we are heading…

So, why do I use English for orthodontic purposes? I am going to narrow down my answer to three C’s: certainty, communication, and conservatism.


Certainty is a great thing for orthodontics. We like being certain. About our diagnosis, treatment plan, documentation, etc. Unfortunately, I feel that it is quite challenging to stay certain using Russian language. 

Firstly, the language doesn’t have articles. So, every object is the same object. There is no difference between “we have to extract a tooth” and “we have to extract the tooth”. I had been involved into translation from English to Russian in one form or another for over 5 years. As a result, I am very aware of how difficult it might become not to lose clarity while bringing it to Cyrillic. 

The second thing that impede certainty, in my view, is thoughtless borrowing of English words. I remember once asking my assistant to hand me an elastomeric chain. She got puzzled then: “What is elasticheskaya tsephochka [elastomeric chain in Russian]?”, she replied. “Do you mean the power chain?” Interestingly, she didn’t know English. But she did know several English words and phrases related to orthodontics which she couldn’t translate back to Russian. This is very common among Russian dentists: they mix together Russian and English words and this makes very hard to elicit the meaning. But most importantly, this sometimes results in not adequate patient care.


Apart from communication with our assistants and other dentists, we communicate with our fellow orthodontists from around the globe. Directly – during the conferences and meetings and indirectly – through reading the literature and writing articles ourselves. Moreover, today we have a nonstop 24/7 online communication via social media. The latter is a marvellous opportunity to ask advice from senior colleagues or just share your clinical case, opinion or observation.

To get the most of this communication, it is important to adhere to the established vocabulary. You will have much more and better quality feedback if you communicate with your colleagues using the language set as the official by the WFO guidelines. All good orthodontic postgraduate programs teach their students in English, and being completely honest I can tell that ALL my knowledge about orthodontics I received from the English-language sources. To my regret, almost all Russian-language information about our specialty is overwhelmingly biased. This is due to the fact that orthodontics is a very new specialty for the post-Soviet world and its development is currently stimulating only by the huge orthodontic companies which regularly have their own – not very evidence-based – agendas.


It is imperative to always question marketing claims of such companies. Orthodontic scientific literature is the great antidote not to fall prey for these ploys. Our specialty has accumulated a great wealth of the scientific evidence almost about each and every aspect of the treatment. Some of the issues are so very-well researched that they have solidified into the core truths that no clinician in his or her right mind would violate. I am talking about the obvious facts: we can’t grow mandibles, premolar extractions are useful in many cases, airways are not affected if the treatment mechanics is correct, and so on.

These issues are conserved in our texts, so the next generation will make no mistake. But what if the next generation does not understand English? I can’t help feeling that post-Soviet orthodontists get often influenced by erroneous marketing claims just because of the mere fact that they have difficulties understanding the literature. The marketing propaganda encourages them to go against the basic orthodontic rules: to overexpand, overprocline, and to overtreat during the mixed dentition.


In the end, I want to indicate that this whole rant is not meant to be against Russian language. I truly love my mother tongue and cherish its creative power and unique melody. It is always great to have a nice chat with my friends and colleges using my native language with its beautiful and complex vocabulary.

But I consider a responsibility to make it clear to every younger colleague: it is not possible to grow professionally without the right language. That is why I use English. It might look strange or probably even annoying for someone. But I believe this is a right thing to do. I really do.

Where we are heading?

I think we are heading towards more polarisation. On one hand, we will see more Russian, Belorussian, Georgian, etc. orthodontists speaking good English and becoming better clinicians as a result. These specialists will have happy patients with good occlusions. On the other hand, we will see those who are reluctant to embrace the three C’s of the English language. The patients of these specialists will be left with severe protrusion, gum recession and very compromised bites. Most certainly, these patients won’t be very happy.

I hope this makes some sense…

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