Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. You decide to commit and you get serious about diet and exercise but no matter how hard you work at it, you can only lose 18 pounds. How would you feel about yourself? What do you think about only getting 90% of the way to your goal? Frustrated? Maybe a little bit, but how would you feel about yourself after losing 18 pounds vs. before?
I believe the word is AWESOME!
Better is waaaayyyy better! You don’t have to be a stick figure to enjoy, feel good about, and be proud of improving your appearance and health. Same goes for improving your smile! We all have perfection in mind, but I can tell you that perfection is unattainable and it’s all varying degrees of better when it comes to orthodontics. No matter what appliance I use – metal braces, clear braces or clear aligners – the goal is improvement and enhancement. There was even a textbook written explaining the realities of straightening teeth.
It’s the nature of being human that prohibits the attainment of perfection. We are asymmetric by nature, and this causes issues. Also in adult orthodontic cases it is very difficult to overcome bite problems without major surgery, tooth removal, or a tremendous amount of time and work on the part of the patient. Most people and especially most adults are not willing to do what it takes to get close to perfect.
When I was young and knew everything I couldn’t understand why patients wouldn’t undergo surgery, remove teeth and do whatever it took to get to the endpoint I wanted for them. As I’ve gotten older and much more experienced, I see the value of improvement and understand that, unlike me, most patients have more going on in their lives than orthodontics, and better is better.
We all have goals and dreams and desires. We all want perfection if all things are equal. But life doesn’t usually follow the template in our mind, and better is the best we can hope to do in most cases for all the reasons mentioned before.
The other problem with thinking in terms of perfection is that sometimes we let the fear of not achieving perfection stop us from even trying. I know I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count. I’m a dentist and, by nature, this tends to be our mindset. It’s definitely what we dentists are taught. “Perfect or nothing” should be the dentist motto, but it’s really kinda dumb when you think about it.
As I’ve gotten older, I massively regret that I refused to help a significant number of patients get a better smile because I didn’t feel the result would be “ideal” for some tooth nerd reason or another. What a jerk I was. It wasn’t malicious, I was just doing what I was taught, and in cases that were difficult or “required” jaw surgery or tooth removal to achieve the result that I thought was “ideal.” I would refuse to help patients who were not willing to do what I wanted them to do. It was silly and based on what my ego wanted and could handle. I was afraid that patients wouldn’t be happy unless I achieved ideal, but what I discovered once I put my ego aside was that patients were thrilled with a better-looking smile! And making patients smile is what I do.
Better is better. I know that now. I wish I could go back and slap my younger self and give those patients whose dreams I dashed a big hug. I was ignorant, but ignorance is not an excuse.
These days I’m all about better. I certainly strive for ideal on every case, but I don’t get hung up on perfect. I’ll do whatever I can to the best of my ability to get patients closer to the dream smile they have in their mind’s eye, but I’m also mindful of what patients are willing to do to get there AND what they are not willing to do. I do this kind of enhancement treatment regularly in my offices but now I am elated to have the chance to remotely help millions of Americans who cannot afford the time or money to visit a traditional orthodontist office. I’m so excited that improvements in technology allow me to help patients get a better smile in a way that fits into their lifestyles and their budgets.
Dental health is important. Studies show that improved oral health and appearance have positive effects ranging from fewer heart attacks and reducing the chance of diabetes to happier marriages to making more money! Crazy, right? I want to shout it from the mountaintop, and I hope all the people that I ignorantly dismissed will hear that times have changed and finally get their chance to achieve their dream smile. What person in their right mind wouldn’t want this for everyone?
Ben Burris is an orthodontist by training and an activist for increased access to care by choice. A devout contrarian, Burris is known for taking on controversial and even distasteful topics and is willing to stand, unflinchingly, in opposition to the majority viewpoint whenever he believes it necessary. You can see more from Ben and contact him at OrthoPundit.com.