Ideal has a place in textbooks and in the educational process but, in practice, ideal is dumb. Ideal is the favorite word of the inexperienced, the armchair quarterbacks, anonymous online study club participants, self-proclaimed artists trapped in the body of a dentist and critics. Being a critic is fun and easy as the errors of others are obvious while our own are obscured by pride. The critic uses ideal as a weapon and rarely does the idealist contribute in a positive way or constructive way. The idealist espouses the need for ideal results with no regard for inherent limitations or even reality.

The pragmatist realizes that ideal is as unattainable in orthodontics as perfection due to an immense array of variables and the asymmetry inherent in human beings. The pragmatist does the best he can while treating each case to the best of his ability and in the way he would treat his own family member. The pragmatist constantly seeks to enhance his skills because he knows that no matter how good or experienced one becomes, there is always room to improve and someone who knows more. Pragmatism can come with age and experience but so can inflexibility. One must know his limitations, understand that there is always more to learn and make peace with imperfection while striving for the best possible result to become truly pragmatic – not just in practice but also in life!

As an aside, the only thing dumber than talking ideal in a specific case is to generalize “idealness”. Ideal ceph measurements gathered from averaging many cases and then applying them to all cases individually (as if they apply in every case) is the prime example of this type of thinking, but that is a discussion for another time…

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