Christopher Piehler

The subject of this month’s cover profile, Herbert Hughes, DMD, is both an orthodontist and a magician. His passion for prestidigitation makes him quirky (and gives him some lively decor for his practice), but it also allows him to share a fresh perspective on how to practice his profession.

Hughes (or, to call him by the nickname that I just made up, Hughes-dini) points out in the article, that both orthodontics and sleight-of-hand rely on manual dexterity. He doesn’t mention misdirection as a prerequisite for both magic and moving teeth, but why else would so many orthodontic clinics have TV screens on the ceiling?

To me, though, the most pertinent similarity between magic and orthodontics is, as Hughes says, the fact that the practitioner requires months or even years of preparation in order to make the actual performance seem effortless.

“Preparation” is not a sexy practice-management concept, reeking as it does of hours spent alone, hunched over a book, a computer, or a coin that refuses to disappear. It suggests devoting enormous amounts of time and effort to the single-minded pursuit of a skill, and it hints at a period of failure, which, in our current culture, is treated as an extra-long four-letter word. There’s a reason that training sequences in sports movies are reduced to montages, just as there’s a reason that most kids quit playing the violin or piano: preparation isn’t fun.

Join the conversation by .

But Hughes, like many successful orthodontists, knows that preparation is the bedrock upon which his career is built. To extend the geological metaphor, what happens in an orthodontic practice during any given clinical day is the tip of the iceberg. Patients may see a cheerful, competent team that gets them in and out of the chair within a few minutes, but the larger, invisible part of the iceberg is made up of the orthodontist’s education, his choice of a team to work with, and the mile-long list of business and clinical decisions that he and his team have made during years of working together. As magicians and orthodontists will tell you, it takes hard work to make their job look easy.

Christopher Piehler