Thursday, June 28, 2012

A New Normal

What is normal anyway?

Some folks panic as birthdays approach. Not me. I’ve spent years looking forward to retirement. After more than thirty years as a Puyallup Orthodontist, I thought I’d retire and become a snowbird— you know, the guy who travels south every winter—coming home only after the spring equinox. I’d play golf every day. I’d swim, play tennis, and enjoy long warm days in the desert. After so many Puyallup winters, who could blame me?

Lately though, I think the Lord is leading in a different direction. Maybe spending my retirement in perennial recess isn’t what He has in mind. It’s a slow process, and I’m still discovering my part in the plan. But here’s what’s happening:

Over the past few years, I’ve been surprised to have folks come to me for advice. Not just one or two people, and not just professional advice, or financial advice—not even just spiritual advice—these people seek me out in all kinds of areas. Even more surprising, I’ve found that I’ve been able to help.

Amazing, isn’t it?

When it happens, I've found that I don’t tell people what to do; rather, I ask questions. I’ve discovered that one perfectly framed question can help people discover their own best path. It’s been such a simple, natural development that I hardly noticed it. Lately though, I’ve realized that I like doing it; Honestly, I’m pretty good at it. So, I’ve decided to get additional training. I’ve attended seminars, gotten help with the process of helping others. It turns out, there’s a great deal of technique involved in the process.

Most people call it coaching. But I’ve been doing it for so long, I didn’t even realize that the process had a name.

Coaching is very different from counseling; I don’t help hurting people review past events to find healing. Instead, I guide stable, healthy people toward the future they dream about. I ask questions designed to give them insight. I help them see the potential in front of them, and find a way to tap into that potential. I help them plan their way toward their own goals.

These days, on top of my office hours, I’m coaching roughly thirty people. Yes, it takes time, energy, and focus. Truthfully? I enjoy it. It seems to be my sweet spot.

As for golf, I’m still hoping to play more—but I think my plans for a “recess retirement” have been put on hold. That’s what happens with the Lord. Sometimes, at 60, you find yourself with a whole new kind of normal.

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an unexpectedly new “normal?” In what surprising new direction has the Lord led you? Care to tell us about it?
Dr. Greg Sutherland,
With Bette Nordberg

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Counting the Cost

In this economy, we understand that most families are living with less. Some struggle just to make ends meet. It isn't easy for any of us. Now, more than ever, people are really thinking about how we invest our hard earned dollars.

Because of that, patients are asking questions and taking the time to truly understand the costs and value of orthodontic service. One of the questions we hear most frequently sounds something like this:

I have to admit that I just don’t understand why orthodontic care costs so much. Don’t you just put on braces and wait for the teeth to move into the right place?

I'd like to try and answer that question:

As with many valuable professional services— for instance, lawyers, surgeons, pharmacists, and physicians— it’s often hard for the layman to “see” the processes going on behind the scenes. The first and perhaps most critical stage of orthodontic treatment is the treatment plan. Before treatment begins, Dr. Sutherland and Dr. Larson do an in depth examination of a patients photos and x-rays in order study the positions of both the visible and not-yet-visible teeth.They take into consideration the structure of the patient’s face and jaw, the potential for growth and probable growth patterns. With the desired outcome in mind, all of this is balanced against the age and health of the patient, the possible need for surgical and or dental intervention, (skeletal surgery or extractions). Taken together, these many factors guide the design of a customized treatment plan.

No question about it, designing the best treatment plan is both art and science. Even with all the facts, much of that plan depends on the many years of experience and training that both Dr. Greg and Dr. Ethan bring to the process.

Once a patient begins treatment, each step, or phase is executed under the doctor’s close supervision. Using regularly spaced appointments, (about every ten weeks) the doctors evaluate the individual body’s response to the treatment and adjust their plan accordingly. The orthodontist asks himself, are the teeth moving? Are they moving fast enough, or too fast? Is the process comfortable enough for this patient? How can we adapt to unexpected changes as they occur? Often, during these appointments our staff modifies the appliances or wires attached to the braces. By using different appliances, or changing the size of the wires, the position, size and placement of rubber bands, the forces moving the teeth are changed, and a different effect is produced.

Part of the orthodontic treatment cost covers these critically important office visits and adjustments. Outside the dental office, these small adjustments are almost unnoticeable. (The patient certainly knows about them!) However, in the dynamic, living biology of tooth movement--where gum health, bone response, jaw and facial growth are vital factors--each of these appointments becomes a critical part of the development patient’s new and perfect smile!

It's no question that those beautiful smiles are an investment -- of time, commitment, talent, and finances --for everyone involved. At SmilesbySutherland, we can work with you to finance orthodontic treatment. It isn’t easy. But we think the stunning results and glorious smiles are entirely worth it.

You can check out the before and after pictures on our Facebook page at:

or our website:

Dr. Ethan Larson, Dr. Greg Sutherland,
with Bette Nordberg 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Early Days

Some times, I regret that my kids won’t ever get a chance to see what Raelene and I went through in the early days. Granted, it wasn’t the great depression; it certainly wasn’t the Second World War. But early on, it was tough going.

Kids often think that you’ve always been where you are. In terms of money, comfort, income, faith, relationships, kids rarely realize that you’ve made a journey too. We did. Things were different in those early days.

We started married life while I was still in school. Anyone who has done post-graduate work while trying to find your way through the honeymoon phase knows what I mean. I was studying hard, spending long days at school and in the clinic. I studied Orthodontics at Loyola University in Chicago, and because of that, we were far away from family and friends. We found ourselves in the big city, poor and alone, trying to find our way together.

Though we didn’t have any money, we looked for fun things to do together. We discovered that you could get a lot of food without spending too much money in a Chinese restaurant. We went camping with borrowed equipment. (I’ll never forget the night we spent in a very wet tent). We went for long walks on the lake. We spent evenings with friends, singing and playing guitar. We went to free museums, or free community events (like church concerts or music programs, Christmas Tree lightings, Summer concerts in the park). We took advantage of national parks. We hiked.

Though today’s newlyweds have a whole new selection of events and activities to choose from, many of them struggle with the same financial issues. How can a couple invest in their relationship without breaking the bank? I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert on what young couples should do. But from my perspective, I would encourage all married couples to work on finding ways to spend time together. Dating shouldn’t end at the altar. It doesn’t have to cost much. You don’t even need to hire a sitter. You can date your wife after the kids go to bed! Try a date in the family room!

You just need to make it happen.

No matter where you are in your journey, your marriage needs that. All relationships do.

So. What things have you done to spend quality time with your spouse? Share your best “married date” with us. If you struggle to get it done, what keeps you from doing it?

Dr. Greg Sutherland, DDS, MS
(with Bette Nordberg)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Cooperation: It's Easier Than You Think!

Anyone who has raised teenagers knows how hard it can be to get kids to cooperate. Finishing schoolwork, keeping commitments, being on time, following the rules. Though not every child struggles, many have difficulty doing what is best for them. 

In orthodontics as in life, cooperation can be critical. Some responsibilities fall entirely in the patient’s lap. Teenagers must brush their own teeth, keep track of and wear their appliances, and when necessary put on those pesky rubber bands.

But what do you do when—in spite of your best efforts—your teen fails to keep up his part of the treatment plan? 

Dr. Ethan Larson has some great ideas: First, don’t let your frustration dominate your interaction. Sure, parents would like things to change. But as you work toward a solution, remember your child’s best qualities, and take the time to express your appreciation. Encouragement is like fertilizer. Change grows in the rich soil of encouragement.

Second, while your child may understand the nature of the problem, he might need help defining the exact struggle he faces. Most ortho patients know what area of compliance is most difficult for them (better brushing, more frequent flossing, or consistently wearing rubber bands). Dr. Larson tries to solve one problem at a time, beginning these discussions with a question:

“When do you forget your rubber bands?”
The child might say, “After dinner.” or “After brushing my teeth at night.”

These questions help a child move from the general (forgetting rubber bands) to the specific (forgetting to replace them after I brush my teeth at night). 

Next, let your child ask himself, “What could I do that would help me overcome this specific difficulty?”  For instance, if replacing rubber bands after brushing her teeth is a problem, perhaps a sticky note on the bathroom mirror would help. If forgetting his bands after eating is troublesome, maybe he could slip the bands over his pinky finger and leave them there while he eats. 

Dr. Larson encourages his patients to take one last step. “I believe that change happens best within the limits of a time-frame. I suggest that we check the success of the student’s plan at the next appointment. Parents probably need to follow up more quickly – like this, ‘Let’s try this and see how things are going on Sunday.’”

The point is, when students solve their own problems, one at a time, they not only experience success in ortho treatment, but they learn a valuable life skill. After all, most adults regularly use similar problem-solving skills. We may want to exercise more regularly, eat better, or grow in the disciplines of our faith. These same steps can help us overcome our own inertia. 

How about you? Have you solved your own discipline problem lately? Can you tell us about it?
Dr. Ethan Larson, 
With Bette Nordberg

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Too Quiet on the Western Front

I think the correct term, these days, is “Empty Nesters.” Whatever you call it, Raelene loves it. Personally, I’m not all that thrilled.

Things are just way too quiet when I come in from the garage at night. I miss the noise of the kids. The wild conversation at the dinner table. The friends coming and going at all hours. I miss the school events, the sports, the activities. I miss knowing about the daily events in my kids’ lives.

That is, until they all come home.

These days, they usually arrive with kids of their own. And, after just a couple of years by ourselves, Raelene and I sometimes feel like the frog who’s been dropped into boiling water. Having the house teeming with people can be quite a shock to these old grandparents.

I try to remind myself of the unique gifts these years bring us. We have more time for conversation, more travel opportunities (without a two-page explanation of schedules for the babysitter), and more time to share with our couple-friends. Our input as parents hasn’t expired; though it has changed. Our kids have become our friends. We get to cheer them on as they face the unique challenges of their own lives. We get to influence rather than advise. We get to pray.

As a young dad, trying to build an orthodontic business, holding a family together, I could never have envisioned these “empty nest” days. I thought they’d never come.  But as any “old guy” will tell you, they came faster than I ever imagined. So I’d have to give you the same advice any old geezer would:

Enjoy the journey.  

It’s not an original thought, but it’s still true. These days fly by. Though you may be bone-weary, frustrated, fearful, worried, overworked, and underappreciated, take one short moment every single day and make a mental snapshot. Freeze dry that three-year-old kiss. Make a mental CD of that hilarious conversation where your four-year-old explains that “curious” (as in Curious George) is German for “monkey.” Replay that mental video of your six-year-old cartwheeling through the snow—skis flying— on his first trip down the mountain.

These are the treasures of parenting. You must gather them as you can, savor them, and keep them. Ear infections, toothaches, poor work slips, driver-training accidents, and the broken hearts of adolescence will pass. Unfortunately, all of it will pass.

And sooner than you know, you’ll find your house, like mine, just a little bit too quiet. What’s your favorite memory of raising kids?
Dr. Greg Sutherland,
With Bette Nordberg