A sense of wonder for the orthodontist

With all of our technological advances, keeping a sense of wonder can bring fulfillment and a focus on what is really important in life. Read Dr. Frost’s insight in his introduction.

Success or wonder?

We live in the most technologically advanced, modern, fast-paced, and quickly changing world the human race has ever experienced. Our creature comforts are almost unreal and magical. We have smartphones, smart cars, smart homes; heck, we even have smart children! We have apps for everything — ones that will deliver food to our doorsteps or get anything you can imagine without leaving our homes. Our creature comforts have never been so good. If we need information, all we have to do is ask Siri, and if we wanted, we would never have to leave the couch; just ask Alexa to turn on the lights, play some music, or scratch your back. On the outside, it seems as though we are living in this futuristic, picture-perfect world, but in reality, many of us are cut off from “wonder and awe.”

Dr. Arthur A. Dugoni, Dean of my dental school, gave me a simple piece of advice on my first day of dental school. He said, “Life is like a store; pay the price, and take what you want.” Many of us have paid the price and are taking what we want. We have amazing practices, nice cars, comfortable homes, and we go on trips that our parents only dreamed of taking. As I contemplate this dream life I live in, I feel as though I have conquered a mountain, but sometimes, I am left wanting something more. I didn’t realize what was missing until I came across this quote by Abraham Joshua Heschel. He said, “I don’t ask for success; I ask for wonder.” That quote struck me to my core. What is it in my life that brings me “wonder”? When I consider that question, I’m reminded of a trip I took with my wife a few months ago.

I had the opportunity to take my wife with me to give a 2-day lecture in Tokyo, Japan. I was amazed by the people, their culture, and especially their language. While we were there, I learned a new word in Japanese that spoke to me: “Ikagi,” which has a profound meaning when translated. In English, it translates to “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.” In Japan, it is a fundamental part of the culture to have an ikagi, or something that gets you up in the morning.

What is your ikagi?

Whenever I ask orthodontists what their ikagi is, most say what I said when I started up my practice — success and money. As orthodontists, we are for the most part going to have success and money, but let us not forget that we have a craft that allows us to create beautiful artistic smiles that can change lives, build confidence, and enhance our patients’ self-esteem. This is my ikagi. Every day I go home, I consider the lives that I’ve impacted that day, and I say to myself, “I can’t believe I get to do this.”

As my practice has grown, and as I’ve discovered my ikagi, my focus has shifted from just clinical excellence to creating an amazing overall experience for my patients. A good office culture, engaging patients in treatment, and a celebration at the end of treatment are all an integral part of creating an amazing experience during the patient journey. I have two favorite appointments during a patient’s transformation — the day I get to put the braces on, and the day I take them off. The smile reveal after braces come off is the ikagi for me. When I think of the word “wonder,” I think of the look on patients’ faces after I smooth and polish the teeth and then hand them a mirror to see their new smile. We surround them with as many team members as possible to celebrate with them when they see their new smile for the first time. Many patients just stare in the mirror and smile, some cry, and some even sob! It never gets old watching my patients see their lives change right in front of their eyes.

If you are struggling to find your ikagi, or if you have strayed from the playbook that guided you into this profession in the first place, I invite you to re-evaluate your reason for getting up in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, success and money are good endeavors, but they will not allow you to really focus on what is most important. Success and money are not motivators that last. Wonder and awe bring lasting happiness. Joy is better! Sacrifice is better! Living beyond yourself is better!

Dr. Stuart Frost

Dr. Frost’s sense of wonder centers on changing patient’s lives through beautiful smiles. Read about his treatment of a patient’s gummy smile here.

Stuart L. Frost, DDS, received his dental degree at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry. Following a 1-year fellowship in temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), he completed a 2-year residency in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics at the University of Rochester. Dr. Frost practices in Mesa, Arizona. He is currently a part-time associate clinical professor at the University of the Pacific orthodontic program and has lectured on the Damon System at several Damon Forums and other Ormco-sponsored events, including the national American Association of Orthodontists Annual Session, component meetings, and his own Damon in-office seminar

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