A Few of my Favorite Things: From Running to Prosthodontics

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Running has been part of my life since I was a small boy. I went to a great high school, the St Louis School, in Hong Kong in the 1970s. At St Louis, there were many book smart boys but there were numerous boys who were talented in soccer and basketball too. Ball players generally hate running. In no time, I figured out I could never outdo the other boys in ball games but I may have a chance to out-run them. My uncle used to say, ‘Talent is Limited, but Effort is Unlimited’. Eventually, this motto (+ tons of luck) brought me to dental school and prosthodontics.

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Taken during the time I was in St Louis

I finished my prosthodontics and maxillofacial prosthodontics training in 1993. Trust me, moving over to Toronto, Canada was the beginning of my adulthood and there was this steep learning curve. Running was put on the side line as my boss (I mean my wife, Moon) was going through her MBA and JD degrees at York University. Armed with a 6 month old baby girl, my family moved to Singapore in the beginning of 2004 after spending almost 15 years in Canada/USA. We bought over a tiny practice in Singapore and we wanted to try our luck on the tropical island.

2068865a-7cf3-49d4-a4f7-865037949a2cAs Singapore is only a few kilometers from the equator, there are 12 hours of daylight all year round with the average temperature varying between being hot and very hot. It was my boss’s idea that my family should run under the Singapore marathon record holder, coach Rameshon at FlexiFitness. He and I are of the same age and he has the characteristics of a combination of a few of my earlier mentors in Prosthodontics.

 These are a few things that I have learned from running and prosthodontics.

(1) Guidance:

We are born to run and running is running, right? What there is new? Why can’t I train myself? Well, learning a clinical specialty from a great graduate program director is not exactly easy but trying to reach the clinical competency of a specialist by going through weekend continuous courses is simply MUCH HARDER!! Instead of trying to DIY and run the risk of wasting effort and precious time, learning from someone who knows all the tricks and has an excellent reputation is certainly a great way to move on with life.

(2) Scientific based practice/training:

Not too long ago, after I gave a presentation at a regional meeting, a prosthodontist from another country told me over a cup of tea that he had achieved what he wanted to achieve as he had ‘learnt it all’ in prosthodontics. We all learn physiology, right?

My running coach is very professorial in the application of scientific information in track side activities. He earned a masters degree in the subject from Loughborough University, UK. He and I chat about the science of running all the time. As he taught me more about the science of running, I got to know more of the numerous scientific principles/studies about running (yes, there are TONS of scientific publications on the topic). In our group, one of our runners, Pei-Hua, even has a PhD in the study of running (running cost of transport, stability, cadence, etc..)! Now, we are talking about brain power, not just physical. Nowadays, the training/practice of running is easier as its science fulfills my semi-analytical mind.

I finally came to the conclusion that the physiology I learnt in my dental school time was elementary level. In my humble opinion, learning is a never ending game in prosthodontics and running.

(3) Age:

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With fellow runners in the 5000m event (50-54) at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Perth Australia 2016 (I came in 11th out of 49 runners in the world for my age group)

Let us face it, we all used to be younger. We always assume wisdom grows with age and sports enthusiasm should be inversely proportional with age.

After running for a while against younger and younger (in relative terms) athletes, I came to the conclusion that age has little to do with wisdom. It has to be acquired/earned through continuous learning of a relatively broad base of ideas and the application of selected knowledge. On the other hand, it is hard to teach new dogs old tricks.

Maybe that is one of the secrets how I managed, in the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (December 2016) to come in overall 32 and top in master age group (well, the ~25 invited African runners were ahead of me but they got paid by the organiser to run while the rest of the 8000+ runners paid the organiser to run…).

(4) Support

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With running teammates from FlexiFitness and colleagues from Specialist Dental Group at the Asia Masters Athletics Championships in Singapore in May 2016 – I finished the 5000m event (50-54) with a Gold Medal.. fastest in Asia for my age group in this event

Running is always considered as an individual sport. I was very lucky to have a big group of friends and family to cheer me on in life. My parents are first class in supporting education and were kind enough to say many ‘Nos’ to my nonsenses while I was kid. Now I appreciate it as I realize that was my parents’ way of ‘supporting’ me.

As a maxillofacial prosthodontist, our job is to handle complex dental/facial rehabilitations. We are taught to be self-reliant and independent but we really can’t do our work without great support!! A great team! In my clinic at Specialist Dental Group, I have a collection of specialist colleagues in periodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics, endodontics, pedodontics, prosthodontics, and a great laboratory in conventional and CADCAM work, etc.

My team of running mates, sport masseur, chiropractor teammate (national runner) and coaches, are top class in Singapore too. I did not expect that through the years, so many of my friends and colleagues would continue to work together as a team. They deserve a big round of applause.

That is priceless!

5) Futurisation

I would say, Prosthodontists are all supposed to perform rock solid treatment with proven track records and evidence. However, IMHO we are futurists. We are one of the rare health care professionals who study the history of our specialty area in depth! In our specialty board examination, history of the specialty is a commonly asked area.

However, we are a lot more progressive than we thought. We are also one of the few in health care who actually futurise for our patients. We are so good at it that it is in our DNA, and we simply call it “treatment planning”. After proper treatment planning, clinical execution is relatively simple in our hands, almost robotic in a way.

Podium finish runners do NOT get the result on the race day! They worked for it through their countless training miles. In other words, a race is mainly won through preparation!

I consider myself having a few unfair advantages in running: I am trained professionally to learn, analyse, sift out evidence, focus, and on top of that I am older now! Yes, being older is an advantage in running, as I have more time to accumulate more training mileage than the late comers. Remember, old dogs, old tricks!

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