Do You Need an Orthodontic Mentor?

Have you recently done a course in Orthodontics and are feeling anxious about implementing orthodontics into your practice?

Many of us have undertaken orthodontic courses to improve our skills and increase our scope of practice. Having attended a 2-3 day course we go back into our practice with all of the greatest intentions to implement our new skills and suddenly realise we don’t know where to start! We think we have a good understanding of what we are being taught at the time and then we get back into our practice and realise we are missing quite a few pieces to our puzzle!! We start questioning ourselves and wonder how are we going to get patients to say “yes” to our best care to increase revenue and also gain personal satisfaction. The next daunting question we ask ourselves after our patient exam is, “Is my diagnosis correct and how do I know if I am on the right track with my treatment plan?” Two months later the patient comes in for an orthodontic adjustment appointment, we notice something isn’t right, our heart sinks and we ask ourselves ”Where have I gone wrong?” – “This wasn’t meant to happen!”

We would be unique if we couldn’t relate to this and this was certainly my experience in my early days of dentistry and also Orthodontics. Having been in practice for nearly 30 years, I continue to work with a mentor as there are always new techniques and skills to learn.

Until we find a compatible mentor many of us file the knowledge and skills we learned in the “Too Hard Basket”

For many of us, where we are today both personally and professionally can be attributed to certain people in our lives – many of these would be considered our guiding mentors.

My professional life changed considerably with having some wonderful mentors to help me through my early years of dentistry, and even more so in my orthodontic training and the first 20 years of my specialist orthodontic practice. Even today I still utilise the services of my mentor, Dr. Rohit Sachdeva where I consult with him fortnightly and am still challenged regularly.

Each one of us in some aspect of our life, but definitely in the clinical area of dentistry would have had a mentor. A mentor is a guide, a resource who paves the way to success, and derives satisfaction from helping others succeed. The role of a mentor is to inspire, encourage, and support the mentee, contributing to their professional and personal development.

Orthodontics is unique and differs from other branches of dentistry. It’s barely taught in the dental school, with no hands-on and no treatment done for patients, thus lacking the true clinical experience. 

As a postgraduate orthodontic resident, much of my learning was through my instructors who acted as my mentors –the typical path of learning for all postgraduate dental programs.  

As a general dental practitioner who is not enrolled in a full-time orthodontic program, and wishes to become proficient in orthodontic care, the need for an orthodontic mentor is paramount. 

Orthodontic treatment is a long-term commitment between patient and treating practitioners. Many things can go wrong during orthodontic treatment, and most can be avoided by having a mentor who can support the clinical decisions to minimize mishaps and improve the efficiency of treatment.

The mentor should be an experienced orthodontist, who is able to guide the clinician through all the steps of orthodontic treatment. The relationship between the mentor and mentee should enable the mentee to discuss cases and case selection, treatment plans, and progress, raise questions or concerns, help raise the level of confidence and skill level of the mentee and allow the mentee to reach out when assistance is required.

The mentors in this professional relationship gain the self-satisfaction from helping the less experienced practitioners and contribute to their success.

Don’t expect your mentor to just give you all the answers. Sure, it would be easy for them to give you a quick fix to help you solve a problem; but a mentor should help you cultivate yourself, making you better able to handle the problems and challenges that arise in the future. Yes, it requires time and effort to build a valuable relationship, but the benefits will be well worth it. One of the significant things about mentorship is that both parties benefit from a great relationship.

Mentorships do not develop randomly; you must actively seek out mentors in areas of your life where you feel they would be most beneficial. Most mentors won’t seek out a mentee – they want someone who is interested, takes initiative and asks for help and guidance. Also, keep in mind that not every person will be a perfect fit to be your mentor.

Here are a few pieces of my own advice on mentorship:

The success of mentoring depends on confidentiality and the ability of participants to speak freely, without fear of reprisal. Good questioning from a mentor encourages the trainee to think critically and discover independent solutions, thereby avoiding dependency

How does one know if the relationship is working? The following points may help with your evaluation  

  1. The mentor must encourage the mentee's goals and aspirations
  2. Te mentor must provide honest and constructive feedback and have a willingness to share their knowledge
  3. The mentor must assist the mentee in developing self-awareness
  4. The mentor must promote growth by presenting challenges to the mentee
  5. The mentor and mentee must listen to each other and communicate in a manner that is easy for both to understand.

Make sure the orthodontic program you are considering is offering you a valuable mentoring opportunity as well as an excellent training program (with sound principles being taught in the entire gamut of orthodontics).

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