Two years ago, on this very day, my colleagues and I posted online a text entitled ‘The Young Russian Orthodontic Manifesto’. It was written to provide solutions for the improvement of orthodontic treatment in Russia, the main of which were:
Set English language as the main language for postgraduate orthodontic programs across Russia
Invite expirienced English-speaking academicians to teach at these programs
Establish a Russian orthodontic board
Long story short, nothing has worked out. Looking back, I feel that these goals were too big for a country with an embryo orthodontic infrastructure. Furthermore, older generation of Russian dentists are still objecting orthodontics. They adhere to orthodontiya. What is it? In a nut shell, it is a low-quality advertising-based orthodontics regulated by former communists who speak no word of English. Orthodontiya adepts do not extract premolars, grow mandibles and regard credible research data as a Western propaganda. For more on this you can read my letter to the British Dental Journal published last summer.
Last month I visited an art exhibition entitled ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’by a Russian artist, Ilya Kabakov. He emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1988, the year I was born. In the West he became known as the most expensive Russian living artist, after one of his paintings sold at auction in 2008 for $5.8 million. The exhibition is his rare appearance in Moscow, the city where he studied, worked and lived most of his life.
Exodus story constantly repeats in world history with different players in different circumstances. Unable to accept ideology, low moral values or just straightforward unprofessionalism, people unite into groups to stand against unbearable states of affairs.
Exodus is not always a physical migration. It also can be done by establishing strong rules inside a new group. The American Board of Orthodontists established in 1929 by Albert H. Ketcham is the example of an ‘internal’ exodus. Nowadays board certification seems the only method to stay against a growing industry of pseudo-medicine. In my opinion, today it is time to make board certification available for every orthodontist around the globe.
A brief guide on how to find a trusted orthodontist in the Former Soviet Union
In the early 1900s, teeth straightening started to evolve into an independent dental specialty in the city of Saint Louis, which at that time was considered one of the major US trade centers due to its central location in the middle of the country. Since then, the specialty has gradually developed during the century into the science of orthodontics. After the WWII, Western European and UK dentists were the first to take advantage of the American orthodontic heritage. They have added valuable research and clinical knowledge to the specialty and established postgraduate programs, which by the end of the 20thcentury started to welcome a large number of students from economically growing parts of Asia and the Middle East. It appears today that orthodontics is the conventional modality for fixing crooked teeth around the world, despite the existence of some alternative teeth straightening techniques…
It was early 1990s. I was a 5-year-old boy when my mom brought the big box from her work to our studio apartment in Moscow. It was a humanitarian aid from the U.S. The Soviet Union had just collapsed and people were experiencing difficulties with consumer goods. But there was something in that cardboard box that excited me much more than American food and clothing. It was a brand-new baseball mitt and a ball.
The whole summer, my friend and I were throwing the ball to one another, pretending we were playing baseball. We knew no rules and had never watched a single game on TV. But we called ourselves baseball players.
At the very same time, post-Soviet dentists began to experiment with marvelous appliances that they had never seen before. Contemporary bracket systems just came to market. Soon after, these dentists started to call themselves orthodontists. They mistakenly named the new specialty “Orthodontiya”, throwing themselves back into the times of Edward H. Angle and stepped on the thorny path of trial and error…
I gained a degree in general dentistry from the Moscow Medical Academy in 2009. Couple of years later, I enrolled to a postgraduate program in orthodontiya at the Central Research Institute of Dental Surgery in Moscow. If you have never experienced the difference between ‘orthodontiya’ and ‘orthodontics’ there is no point in telling you about it: you won’t understand anyway. And for anyone who has, I do not even want to call it to mind.
I will state briefly: after two years practicing ‘orthodontiya’ in Moscow I felt deficiency in knowledge and need for additional learning. With this in mind I found myself on a plane travelling from Moscow to New York.
Criticism Quackery may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.
Winston Churchill Alex Ditmarov
I am practicing orthodontics in the country where quackery is a national standard for orthodontic treatment. Does it upset me? Not much. Especially considering that just a few decades ago the whole political system of the country was one of the greatest quackeries of the 20th century. I feel enormous gratitude for Michael Gorbachev who has stopped the communist flywheel. The total quackery fell apart into millions of tiny quackeries. Not that frightening, even amusing. One of these is called post-Soviet orthodontiya…
Last week, I was cleaning out my bookshelves. And I decided to throw away all my orthodontic textbooks in Russian.
Yes, I mean it. I have no intention to sell them or present them to younger colleagues. I was misled by these books and I don’t want anyone to be misled by them. I bought them during my residency in Moscow that I finished three years ago.
At my first year after graduation, I completely switched to English language literature. It was a vital necessity. I will either damage all my patients or will learn how to do orthodontics correctly, said I to myself. It turned out that most orthodontic textbooks that I used to read were either poorly translated or significantly outdated.
Here I should notice that I am a big fan of the classic Russian translations of fiction. I feel special respect for Rita Rait-Kovaleva who during the Soviet Era had translated into Russian a wide range of modern western classics – from Kafka to Faulkner. I have spent my teenage years enjoying her work. But it seems like there is no joy about orthodontic translations…