Meet the Doctor
By Dr. Miguel Ortiz
Excerpt from IADS Magazine, August 2019:
As a child, dentistry wasn’t even on my radar. I was fascinated by science and dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist.
I come from very humble beginnings in Argentina. The drop out rate in my neighborhood was extremely high; my own parents dropped out in middle school to work and provide for their families. But I always knew I wanted to get a higher education and a great career. I wanted a chance to go all the way to top of my field, to have a family that I could support and the best life possible.
I attended Universidad National de la Plata in my hometown and started studying biochemistry. After that first year in university the economic infrastructure of Argentina collapsed. Both my brother Carlos, who is a dental technician, and I were forced to leave the country to find work so we could provide for our family. I had to put my dreams on hold.
I moved the U.S. by myself at age 19. I didn’t speak English and wasn’t sure I’d be able to achieve my goals. In a way it was by chance that my first apartment was across the street from Los Angeles Community College. I looked through the open doors and recognized the machines from my time with my brother, so I joined their dental technician program. I worked in a dental laboratory while attending LACC, then California State University. I was recruited by Harvard Dental School, then the University of Chicago and now here I am, a surgically trained Prosthodontist with the meaningful career I always wanted.
Since I was very young, I believed that hard work and education would take me where I wanted to go. Whenever it felt too hard, that it was taking too long, I would hold on to that belief. It doesn’t hurt that I am very stubborn and nothing stops me.
If I could have a DeLorean and go back in time I would. And not only because Back to the Future is the greatest movie series of all time (and it is). There are two big changes I would make in my past life:
- Wear my retainers after my orthodontic treatment.
- Pick my battles. I don’t want to change who I am. I will always be someone who fights for their convictions, who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, but looking back, I see that some of the conflicts I engaged in weren’t worth it. I would save my energy for the fights that actually matter.
Being a Harvard graduate what are the advantages and disadvantages? How was the experience back then?
There are enormous advantages to my Harvard education. You might think I’m referring to the prestige of the name or the doors it can open, but actually, for me, it was the education itself. It’s a small school, with a class of only 35 and highly qualified, one-on-one instruction from the top educators in the world.
It’s an amazing education, with the same expense of other schools in the beautiful city of Boston which I love. There’s really no downside. Other than the cold winter perhaps.
Did you always want to work in Prosthodontics? Why did you choose this specialty?
Going from dental technician to prosthodontist is a natural progression. I actually narrowed it down by ruling out other specialties. I didn’t want to do the same things all the time, so not endodontics. I didn’t want to learn a whole new career after I was done school, so not orthodontics. I care about margins on the crowns, so not Pedo. I wanted to treat patients, so not Perio. I don’t want to work in a hospital, so not oral pathology. I wanted to have a life during my training, so although I really considered it, not surgery. Prosthodontics was everything I wanted at a higher level and none of the things I didn’t. It was a good fit for me.
How do you find motivation to continue working and searching? What drives you?
I am driven by the fact that I know, deeply inside, that the people who came before me did not have the chances I have. My great-grandparents who worked tirelessly, my grandmother who was a single mother, my own parents who sacrificed their own education, dreams and aspirations time and time again - all to lift up me and my generation. I would not be here if it weren’t for them. If I don’t reach my full potential, I’m disrespecting them and everything they’ve done.
So many people would die to be where I am. It’s a privilege, and I can’t just sit on the couch. Now that I have my own kids, I owe them the same kind of support I was given. I want to show them what is possible.
How do you come up with the idea of sharing content on Instagram? Where do you take such interesting and various topics from? How do dentists react to this?
Initially Instagram was a way for me to share my work with others, a confluence of two of my passions – photography and dentistry. Along the way, I realized this had the potential to be more than just pretty pictures, it could be something meaningful. Myself, along with a group of other Instagram pioneers tried to steer the platform away from the aggressive and adversarial tone we saw on Facebook. We wanted to raise the bar for Instagram, making it a community of support; now we share knowledge and allow discussion to flourish in a fun way. I’m proud of all the work we’ve done and continue to do. Negativity is not allowed, haters are not welcome. We don’t always agree, but we do work to protect and help each other.
As for finding topics, that’s the easy part. I’m a practicing dentist, so every day I encounter something new to learn or improve on. I have questions myself and want to do better for my patients. So, I ask questions, I research the literature and I open it up to discussion with my colleagues online. That’s the way I learn.
I can’t describe in words the amount of support I’ve been shown. It’s a different way of thinking, that we are here to learn from each other. I’m not here to show off, but to share my journey, acknowledging that I’m not infallible. If you can prove me wrong in a positive way, then I will celebrate that. The response to my approach has been very positive.
What are your latest achievements? Could you tell us more about your book LIT?
I don’t want to call it achievements, maybe opportunities… of which I have an embarrassment of riches lately. I’ve been working very hard lately to provide my dental photography knowledge to those who aren’t able to attend my courses. With a ton of work from many people, especially my supportive wife, I was able to create the most visually beautiful dental photography book ever made – Lit: The Simple Protocol for Dental Photography in the Age of Social Media. It wasn’t just me so I can honestly brag about it. It’s geared toward the visual learner and covers all the fundamentals of photography, portrait taking, a simple 10-minute protocol for intraoral photography, as well as artistic tricks, communication with the laboratory, even lab photography and marketing tips for dental practices.
I’ve also launched a website DentLit.com, which was a huge undertaking. Not only does this have a list of my courses and the products I use myself, but it hosts a free bi-weekly “Let’s Talk Prosth” event – subscribers are provided curated lists of scholarly research on the topic I’m discussing online at the time. DentLit will also be launching an online version of my dental photography course in both English and Spanish soon after this article is published. Meanwhile, I’ve started working on my second book already – stay tuned to my social media (@dr_miguel_ortiz) for the topic.
Finally, I’m a private practitioner. Working with patients will always be nearest and dearest to my heart. My personal practice is expanding as well right now, so this is a very exciting and busy time for me.
Could you share with us the secret for such perfect impressions? What do you think about digital impressions? Which ones do you prefer: regular or digital ones?
This is an easy one to answer. I’ve recently uploaded a webinar on DentLit.com on Impression Techniques. The key is to understand is when to use each one. Both analogue and digital impressions have their place. Digital is the future because of the ease of workflow. It is a vital part of the reconstructive process, but it’s not always accurate enough or might not be indicated. We are a transition generation and need to know both techniques well.
What do you think dentistry will look like in 10-20 years?
I see two areas of huge change on the horizon. The first is dentistry itself. With the dawn digital technology, bonding protocols and conservative dentistry, the future is looking beautiful. I feel very optimistic about that.
The second area is the business aspect of dentistry and that isn’t such a pretty picture. The expense of dental education and outrageous debt load causes desperation in the job search stage. This, and the private practice being changed into a franchise model, often owned by large corporations, may lead to a focus on increasing profit and lowering margins, with dentists as disempowered employees. Obviously, this is something we should be trying to avoid.
How to find balance in life and keep with everything?
I don’t think I will know if I have balance until I’m 60 or 70 and my kids tell me they had a good childhood. In the meantime, I ask the people around me to keep me in check. I seek the advice of wiser people who are on a similar path: What works? What they would do differently? Mostly, I try to be very aware of my need for balance.
I’m naturally a busy, high-energy guy. The trick is to direct that toward the things that matter most to me.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to keep practicing, no matter what, so I can keep my skills and knowledge up to date. My relationship with patients keeps me grounded. I never stop learning. Dogma is a temptation to all of us. If I become set in my ways, dogmatic, then I will stop learning.
What advice would you give to young dental students?
Don’t ever give up. Things are going to be hard. It takes work, so much work. Keep going and you will get through it. If you fail a test or mess up, it’s just a small stone on a very long road.
And don’t stop living in the meantime. Go to parties, travel, take the weekend off now and then. You need balance.
Life is now.
Thank you to all the wonderful people at IADS (International Association of Dental Students) for this opportunity. Please check out this, and other issues of the IADS Magazine at Dental Tribune International.