Tales of a therapist: my journey

chris cookChris Cook tells us the story of her career in orthodontic therapy.

chris cook

My career in orthodontics began way back in the early 70s. I was a qualified hygienist looking for a new challenge.

I saw a job advertised for one session a week in an orthodontic practice and I jumped at the chance. It was a practice of four partners but only one of them wanted a hygienist.

The other partners couldn’t see what a hygienist could do. This was back in the day when a fixed appliance consisted of banding every tooth.

I was employed to work alongside the ortho in a two-chair surgery. I was to clean up all the cement after he had banded up the patient. Meanwhile he would band up the next patient and so on.

Before long the other partners were asking me to work for them as well. Within six months I was working full time in ortho.

At that point there was talk about a new qualification that would allow me to re-train to become a therapist in ortho allowing me to do even more.

Many years passed and, while I waited, my role within the practice expanded. I became the surgery manager, the practice expanded to eight chairs. The partners started to retire and new orthodontists took over.

Relishing the challenges

Orthodontics is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it with no in between. But I loved it.

New innovations were coming thick and fast and the orthodontists always wanted to try them out. I remember the day we were going to try out a new technique where we were going to bond the brackets directly on the the tooth. All the equipment had been sourced. We had discussed every last detail.

The patient arrived just after lunch and we had set aside the whole afternoon for this new technique. The rubber dam was to be used taking in two or three teeth at a time and each bracket had a separate mix of adhesive.

What with brackets falling off, adhesive not setting, and a fidgety patient not to mention a very wound up orthodontist, things did not go well. At 4pm I said: ‘This will never catch on.’

How wrong was I? Within a year, banding every tooth and hours of wire bending became a thing of the past. It’s why I love orthodontics. There is always something new to learn.

People in the profession are keen to try out new innovations.

Getting on the course

After waiting nearly 30 years I eventually got onto an orthodontic therapy course at UCLan in Preston.

As everyone will tell you it’s a stressful year but I really enjoyed the course. My years in orthodontics helped me tremendously.

The course lead, Hemant Patel, was keen to have a therapist teaching on the course so the following year I did a few lectures that were very popular with the year’s cohort. So the following year I did more and Hemant suggested that I apply to become an examiner for The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh – within 12 months I was examining on other courses.

I have now retired from clinical work, after 40 years, because of arthritis in my hands.

However, I still teach at Preston, examine for the RCS and carry out practice visits for the current students. I work about 10 weeks a year and love it.

Great memories

As I live in south Wales, when I am teaching I stay in a hotel. This means my evenings are free so I frequently spend the evenings helping any of the students who want to go back over lectures they found hard or doing mini tutorials, mostly in the bar.

We have a lot of fun and I’m sure other people in the hotel must wonder what we’re all up to!

Like everyone in orthodontics, I recall many funny tales and great memories. Not least the day a nurse got her finger stuck in the spittoon but continued with the suction until the patient was finished. By which time her finger was so swollen we has to call the fire brigade and she was taken off to A&E along with the spittoon still attached to get it removed.

I feel so lucky to have a career in a field that is so rewarding.

I’m still in touch with the original orthodontist who employed me, who is in his 90s now.

A rewarding career

The qualities that a therapist should have are firstly to be a people person, one who can empathise, understand anxiety and have ways of dealing with stress.

Another quality is being able to understand your orthodontist, how they work, their likes and dislikes and being able to put that information into the work you carry out.

What advice would I give to anyone thinking of orthodontic therapy as a career? Go for it. Nothing beats seeing that shy teenager, lacking in confidence and unwilling to make eye contact, transform into someone who can smile, talk to you with confidence and thank you for all you have done.

As for tips, when you make conversation with a patient, make a quick note about it on the notes and when you see them at the next appointment mention it (did you enjoy your holiday in France, or how’s your new kitten now?). If you can make every patient feel like they are your favourite patient you won’t go far wrong.

Since giving up clinical work I have taken up cake decorating and sugar craft. I enter some of my pieces into competitions and have won a few prizes.


This article first appeared in Orthodontic Practice magazine.

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