It was after a Tweed course in Tucson Arizona, June 2019. We were sitting with a group of young American orthodontists at some Mexican place downtown enjoying our tacos and discussing some of the common issues which all young specialists are facing across the globe. Then out of the blue one colleague asked me – “Is it true that the Russians always lie?”
Frankly, I was quite happy she brought this up. Then I went to great lengths explaining the structure of the Russian language and its history, partially admitting and partially denying her notion. Firstly, it is super-hard to state something precise in a language which doesn’t have articles. Secondly, when it comes to holding a discussion about orthodontics in Russian we are stepping into an even more troublesome waters due to terminology and the lack of basic orthodontic knowledge among the senior generation of clinicians. Furthermore, the communist propaganda which had been butchering the language for a number of decades also left a significant heritage we are still grappling with today.
Despite all these predispositions which could make the language pretty vague and therefore create prejudices towards the particular group of people, I don’t think that dishonesty should be regarded as a national trait. At the end of the day, people are free to change the language they use for professional matters. At least, for the purpose of sheer convenience. This is what I am now witnessing among the younger generation of orthodontists around me. I guess the transition to English is a natural and inevitable process we should take for granted.
However, are we immune to deceit using English?
Of course, it is naive to think so. Yes, the Russians were historically very innovative in concocting various deceptions such as, for example, Potemkin villages. However, over the past century, in my view, this has decreased significantly. I guess this has a lot to do with incredible advances in marketing in the West which probably the Russians have not yet completely adopted.
Let’s get the focus back to orthodontics. In their AJO-DO guest editorial from 2010, Kevin O’Brien and Jonathan Sandler quite reasonably stated the following:
“Our specialty is often unwilling to accept the results of well-conducted, scientifically valid trials of common treatment methods but enthusiastically embraces treatment methods that have not been clinically tested to a level of evidence that withstands scientific scrutiny but are perhaps beautifully described and illustrated in marketing brochures.”
This conclusion resonates with an even more despairing statement Lysle Johnston articulated in his lecture at the Angle Society meeting two years ago:
“Orthodontists nowadays don’t really read journals, but they do read brochures and printing materials from the companies.”
So have we really entered the post-scientific era where the companies are allowed to freely manipulate the data without facing the consequences? And if so, is it perhaps alright to be slightly economical with the truth? Why should we really be reading anything more than Instagram feeds? No one dies from orthodontics and everyone likes glossy pictures…
Two years ago, I published a post titled On reading where I briefly reviewed the main orthodontic journals and state that going back to the literature is probably the best way to resist the digital overload of nonsensical information.
However, it was only later that I stumbled upon a neat and concise explanation on why reading the literature could not be substituted for anything else. I actually found it in a book which I first read in Russian at the age of eleven, but gave it a second round last year in English. It is a classic, dystopian novel. Fahrenheit 451, written by an American author, Ray Bradbury, in just nine days in 1953.
In the beginning of the second part, a protagonist called Montag, a fireman who burns books, is talking to a retired English professor, Faber.
“We have everything we need to be happy, but we aren’t happy. Something’s missing. I looked around. The only thing I positively knew was gone was the books I’d burned in ten or twelve years.” – starts Montag.
Faber then replies that it is not books that Montag was missing, but the three things that come along with them. I can’t stop feeling that these are the exact three things we are missing in orthodontics today.
Probably the trade-off for quantity over quality is one of the most ubiquitous trends in the today’s culture. “The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.” – states Faber. Reading these lines reminds me of the array of butchered non-extracton occlusions I have seen over the past years.
2. Time to think
“A TV rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn’t time to protest.” – carries on Faber. So does social media. Moreover, the recent trend of speeding everything up has pretty intensely permeated the whole filed of orthodontics – the use of orthodontic vibrators, micro-osteoperforation, ‘frictionless’ brackets, etc. In reality, however, all these supposedly effective methods for speeding up the treatment turned to be effective only for squandering research and patients’ money.
3. The right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two
I can’t help feeling Faber was talking here about evidence-based orthodontics! And now I have closely come to…
The most beautiful thing in orthodontics
Last week, a colleague of mine asked me – “What is one single thing you enjoy about orthodontics the most?”
It was pretty easy because I had already had the idea for quite some time.
I replied – “Certainty.”
I then ranted on how uncertain and frustrated I was during my first year in clinical practice and how later I would read dozens and dozens of books and research papers and carried out actions based on what I learned. And every year my results would get slightly better and I would become slightly more certain.
And I can’t think of anything more beautiful in orthodontics than this feeling of peacefulness when you see a new patient and know the scientific basis for the issue through and through and see pretty much the final result in your head. This is what I call certainty.
Of course, I am not certain 100% about all of my cases. Moreover, there are some cases I can’t wrap my mind around at all – these are the cases I typically deny treating. However, there are definitely a lot of topics in orthodontics which have been very thoroughly researched and are now pretty safe places we shouldn’t be worried about much. These is just a handful of examples:
- All expansion relapses to a degree
- No brackets are superior
- We cannot grow mandibles
Of course, we can talk a lot about the responsibilities we have to our patients and the meaning we have to pass to our younger colleagues. However, being less pompous, certainty is first of all a cure for ourselves. And to get it we first have to have high-quality reads and enough time to digest them.
If I only could be as certain in everything else in my life as in the fact that we cannot grow mandibles, I’d be the happiest person in the world.
I wish you an absolute peace of mind in all you do. I am sorry for such a long text.
Thank you for this nicely written critique.
Hi Sylvain! Great to hear from you. Thanks.
Great how one ignorant comment could lead you to this internal dialouge/reflection. Good stuff!
Hi Jean-Marc, I guess it was asked quite light-heartedly just out of curiosity. She then told me it was actually her teacher at the university who told her this. The teacher who emigrated from Russia.
Alex – That is a beautifully articulated piece.