Swords Orthodontics
17 Main St, Swords, Co Dublin, Ireland

Ron Howard: Orthodontic Lessons From Hollywood

As you probably know, the crew at Swords Ortho is not just strongly committed to being good at what we do, we’re strongly committed to being better at it as we go on. So we go to various conferences and continue learning about dentistry in general and teeth in particular. This is called CPD - Continuing Professional Development.

I try to keep up to date with things – sometimes that is fundamental dental and oral health science, sometimes it’s clinical techniques, sometimes it’s new equipment and materials, sometimes it’s regulations and procedures, just developing a better way of doing things or a better outlook. Probably the best combination of all these areas of development for an orthodontist is the annual session of the American Association of Orthodontists. Most years, they have a few non-orthodontists contribute to the event and over the years I have listened to nutritionists, behaviour scientists, medico legal lawyers and drug enforcement officers give me a new perspective on things.

One of the most memorable speakers was Marcus Luttrell, a retired US special forces soldier who survived though horrific experiences in combat. His story is written in a book called “Lone Survivor” which became a movie with Mark Wahlberg. He gave the prestigious “keynote address” to the Association and this year, that address was given by Ron Howard.

As an actor, Ron Howard is probably recognisable to my generation as Richie Cunningham from the TV show “Happy Days”. That one with The Fonz. Apparently he was a child actor in something called “The Andy Griffith Show” for most of the 1960s, but not only have I never seen it, I’d never heard of it until last week. I don’t think it was shown in Ireland or the UK in my time in front of the TV.

I think for a generation younger than mine, Ron Howard might not be recognisable at all, but his work is. He moved out of acting in 1980 to concentrate exclusively on directing, particularly making movies.

The first movie of his that I saw (I was completely oblivious at the time as to the fact he made it) was Cocoon. He made a stack of extremely successful and often critically acclaimed movies that people still watch years after they were made:

  • Apollo 13 (Tom Hanks plays astronaut in charge of a broken spaceship)
  • Splash (Tom Hanks meets a beautiful woman who is also a mermaid)
  • The Da Vinci Code Trilogy (aka Robert Langdon/ Dan Brown trilogy)
  1. Da Vinci Code (Tom Hanks and a beautiful woman deal with secret symbols)
  2. Angels and Demons (Tom Hanks and a different beautiful woman deal with secret symbols and Ewan McGregor deals with an Irish accent)
  3. Inferno (Tom Hanks and another beautiful woman deal with secret symbols in a way that’s slightly different to the other movies)
  • Rush (the guy that plays Thor plays 70s racing driver James Hunt in his classic rivalry with Nikki Lauda)
  • Frost/Nixon (intense movie about a legendary TV interview)
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story (about the young Han Solo)
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carey causes yuletide mayhem)
  • Far and Away (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play Irish people)
  • Backdraft (cult classic about firemen who put out fires and rescue people from burning buildings)
  • Ransom (Mel Gibson gets cross with kidnappers)
  • Beautiful Mind (Russell Crowe plays a scientist, Ron Howard wins Oscars)
  • Cinderella Man (Russell Crowe hits people)
  • Eight Days a Week (non-fiction, documentary about The Beatles)

The lessons I learned:

  1. Ron came across as remarkably balanced, gracious and polite. That’s always a good way to present yourself to the world, but it’s best if it’s genuine, so that was lesson one.
  2. He seemed at odds with any idea I would have about people who work in his industry at his level, and in no way would I attribute his CV to him if I didn’t already know who he was. If being a monumental movie director was a crime that the police had to investigate, you wouldn’t be pointing this guy out on a line-up. So lesson two was that looks can be deceiving, I should curtail my prejudices.
  3. He began by congratulating the recipients of various awards that the AAO had presented in a ceremony just before his appearance. I was impressed by that because it showed he was paying attention to what was going on with people he’d just met. Listening is a very important skill to any clinician and he exemplified that - this was lesson two for me.
  4. Members of the AAO had been invited to ask him questions. I don’t know if he was advised of them in advance, but his answers seemed spontaneous (then again he was an actor for about 20 years). He wasn’t negative in any of his comments about people he worked with, but told a story where he had some difficulty initially working with Bette Davis. This resolved well for all in the end and the take home message was that “challenging interactions teach us most”.
  5. He observed that you are not always the master of your media and if you can’t accept that, then film directing might not be the right career for you, because most of the time you are attempting to exercise authority. Moving teeth to ideal positions has parallels with this. You can use a variety of techniques and braces and plans but sometimes you cannot exercise complete control over the outcome and you have to have ways of accepting this and dealing with it.
  6. Sometimes you can do your best work and it won’t be recognised or appreciated as you would like it to be. He told a story of his movie “Apollo 13” losing out to “Braveheart” for the Best Picture Oscar. He was upset, but then Jim Lovell (the commander of the actual Apollo 13 spacecraft) leaned over to him and said “I know how you feel – I didn’t make it to the moon”.
  7. Which is also a lesson in putting things in perspective.
  8. But the abiding lesson for me was in choosing who you work with. He said it’s easy to work with people who will do what they are told and will work to achieve what you want, but it’s better to collaborate with like-minded people who have a similar vision but not an identical one, and will have other ideas to bring to achieve the same thing that you want. That made me think of my own team and how grateful I am for their initiative and ideas and motivation towards our own production.
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