Friday, August 5, 2011

Why Orthodontics by Lieutenant Commander Jennifer T. Statler

     One would think Devil Dogs aspire to look angry and tough: deep set eyes, crooked smiles and iron jaws seem to be prerequisites for the Marine Corps. Or so I thought until I met Chris Kennedy in my first year of practice at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii. Upon first impression Chris seemed polite, if not indifferent, reserved and simple. After conversing with him, I realized tha tonly his appearance lacked fortitude. His quiet strength and surprising hope inspired me to look beyond what I saw and motivated me to pursue a practice to help others like him.
     I began with the usual line of questions, asking if he had any issues regarding his oral health or occlusion. As he began to articulate his concerns in great detail, the focus of the routine exam changed from dental health to the patient's sense of self. While Chris was healthy, at least by military standards, there were underlying issues no provider had previously addressed. Chris suffered from severe Class III malocclusion and had a far better ability to chew his cheeks than his food. His mid-face deficiency was so bad that he was convinced that others made fun of his appearance. While he was equal and deserving, he often declined to take the lead due to his appearance. He felt that his "condition" held him back from reaching his potential.
     At the time I did not realize the impact this individual would have on how I defined my profession. When I began to explore the potential for orthodontic treatment, I discovered that none was available in Hawaii, as the military considers many esthetic procedures unnecessary. Proposing a joint venture with the Army, I teamed up with two board-certified orthodontists and the orthognathic team at Tripler Army Medical Center. For the first time, we offered comprehensive orthodontic treatment for Marines and sailors at Kbay. Over the next three years we facilitated the treatment of over one hundred servicemen and women, including Chris.
     Initially I was responsible for treatment planning and records but from the orthodontists I quickly learned about cephalometrics, appliance mechanics and goals of treatment. Reviewing each case, the surgeons discerned anatomical obstacles and performed pre-operative procedures on the models to ensure success. Cases began to come out of the woodwork; suddenly my schedule was filled with evaluations for people scarred by their malocclusion. My patients were excited about their potential treatment and actively involved in their progress.Soon half of my practice was orthodontics, both surgical and traditional. After hours and in between my regular schedule, I saw patients whenever I could.
     From this invaluable first-hand experience, I found myself completely dedicated to orthodontics, and thrilled to see my patients exhilarated by their positive results. Watching wallflowers blossom and the shyest demeanors become confident, I knew that this was how I wanted to spend my time. Pursuing a postdoctoral residency in orthodontics allowed me to gain the training and knowledge to become a full time practicing orthodontist.
     Shortly after surgery, Chris came in to see me. With tears in his eyes and a wide, full smile, he thanked me for changing his life. Looking back at a handsome man I hardly recognized, I thanked him for the same.