Take-Homes & Reflections – Tif Qureshi
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Tif for about 12 years. One thing is clear – there is nothing minimal about Tif’s fondness for minimally-invasive dentistry.
In fact, Tif is so passionate about minimally-invasive techniques that his evangelising has sometimes led to him sacrificing his income, family time and – at times – his wellbeing.
Tif teaches away on more weekends than he spends at home, but it’s not all for nothing: He’s a man on a mission to help any dentist who wants to up their game. Any clinician, (and there are thousands out there,) who offers Align Bleach and Bond, owes Tif a pint.
Tif’s feel for minimally-invasive dentistry is heart-felt. But the approach itself is all brain. He has figured everything out through more than 15 years of careful observation, recording and analysis. In a world in which most cosmetic dentists only see their patient once, Tif’s photography and documentation represent an extraordinarily detailed dataset.
Over a decade and a half, Tif has studiously followed up his own work. He has identified and corrected mistakes, refined his techniques and – crucially – he has selflessly shared his insights with the profession at large.
As a presenter, as well as a dentist, Tif is outstanding. Countless times, I have watched Tif command a captivated audience and felt a palpable wave of excitement hit the room as his class experiences a collective eureka moment.
I never get bored of seeing this happen. It’s a reminder of why Tif is among the most sought after speakers and educators in all of dentistry.
Despite his stature, Tif has never been anything other than approachable, down-to-earth and ready to help others.
I remember meeting him for the first time back in 2008 at a Dental Showcase event. I was new to dentistry – a-wet-behind-the-ears dental marketer with a handful of clients. I’d read Tif’s work in the dental and public press and saw him as a world-leading lecturer, pioneer and figurehead.
I nervously approached him at the Straight Talks Seminars stand and asked how my clients could learn more about the Inman Aligner.
He was as passionate back then as he is now – taking the time to explain how he had discovered the then little-known appliance, tested it out on patients and developed a course with Tim Bradstock Smith and James Russell.
Back then the Inman Aligner Course was always oversubscribed, with waiting lists of six-month and longer. But I’d somehow always manage to squeeze my clients into rare cancellation slots. There will doubtless be clients reading who can thank Tif for kickstarting their orthodontic success.
At that time, the idea of GDPs doing orthodontics as crazy talk. If I had gazed into a crystal and told GDPs that they would soon be bending wire for themselves, the notion would have been about as plausible as UFOs in my back garden. My many conversations with clients would often end with their firm refusal to dabble with such voodoo. “Specialists train for three years,” they’d say. “These dentists are going to get in big trouble with the GDC one day.”
But fast forward a decade, and you are now hard-pressed to find a clinic without a resident GDP who is fluent in orthodontics.
I’m incredibly proud of the role that the IAS Academy played in changing the paradigm by helping more GDPs to practice ortho safely. And it achieved all of that while consistently putting ethics before profit.
In those ten years, I’ve become a business partner with Tif at the IAS Academy, as well as a close personal friend. It is dizzying to consider the heady heights to which that short conversation at Dental Showcase eventually led.
Today the Inman Aligner is a small facet of the IAS Academy’s offer. It provides ethical education on all aspects of ortho-restorative dentistry from simple straightening with the Inman Aligner and Clear Aligners, right through to advanced concepts taught by Prof Hobson.
When deciding to start a podcast, Tif was among the first on our list of potential guests. Our conversation didn’t disappoint. Here’s a few of my reflection, lessons and take-homes from the episode.
Brown Boys in the Ring
Tif and his brother were the only two non-white faces at school. Every day for them was a gauntlet of dead arms and name-calling. But the adversity was never enough to shake Tif’s faith that people are decent beneath it all.
To say that Tif’s experience resonates is an understatement. My brother and I were also the only two brown faces at our Manchester primary school. The school playground was survival of the fittest. My brother adopted the lover’s persona to get him through while I became the fighter. I fought many of his battles, but that’s what family is for – right?
Both Tif and I experienced the bizarre let up in racial taunts around the time of Live Aid in 1985. And for me, watching the Rocky movies gave me the confidence to stand up to bullying.
No wonder this portion of the podcast hit me hard in the feels.
You are Your Mentors
Tif talks often and at length about his early dental school influencers. Even today, years down the line, the words and lessons of mentors like Brian Miller and Martin Kelleher loom large in Tif’s personal mythos.
Tif’s respect for past masters and willingness to learn from the best makes me think of my mentors – guys like Prof. Tom Cunnane. Even now I can’t finish a piece of writing without following his advice to leave it fermenting in a desk drawer for a day or two before revisiting it with fresh eyes.
Not all of Tom’s lessons were so prosaic. He also taught me how to learn and think analytically – independently – and those are skills I still use in my business and marketing campaigns every single day.
Learn from Your Mistakes, Stick to Your Values
Tif has worked in the same practice – seeing the same patients – since he qualified in dentistry. But that is not an accusation of conservatism. Over that time, Tif has been able to correct and learn from his mistakes and forge his own path with pioneering techniques based on hard analysis.
One mistake Tif owned was his realisation that he wasn’t comfortable practising what he had been shown on an American veneers course. With typical pragmatism, Tif turned this into a lesson into how not to do dentistry and the experience became formative in his development of a new way of thinking.
Tif started his journey by referring patients for orthodontics before placing veneers. In resisting the crowd, he kickstarted a movement which went on to change the game in cosmetic dentistry.
Chip the Front Teeth, Open the Envelope
I’ve heard Tif talk about this at such length that I’m probably more gemmed up on the subject than most dentists.
Here’s the pravaphrase from a marketer with no dental background: About 75% of the population (I’m one of them) will experience significant age-related tooth movement over the years.
So it should be no surprise when dentists learn that veneers placed ten years ago have now moved. Even worse – the relationship between the upper and lower teeth isn’t what it used to be either. The clashing of teeth when talking and chewing now causes the patients’ teeth to chip – and that’s why crowns are so often prone to breaking repeatedly.
Many dentists would choose to stick a crown on that tooth which will inevitably fail. Tif’s approach is genius in its simplicity. He advocates orthodontics to improve the bite and end the cycle of failed restorations.
The above is a huge over-simplification of the methodology. But the fact that my non-dental brain can grasp the concept is testament to Tif’s skill as an educator. By the end of 2020, I’ll probably also be able to explain the Dahl technique without referring to a curry house!
Ethics over Profits
Tif talks about how the educational program that he started was out of passion. The plan was never to run a profitable training company but always to educate dentists about an exciting new paradigm in dentistry.
As one of Tif’s few non-clinical business partners at IAS Academy, I’m always suggesting ways to increase revenue. Strategies which fail to meet Tif’s keen ethical litmus testing don’t make the grade – pure and simple.
I’m certain Tif could have made his fortune many times over, had he not first constantly subjected his thinking to the same close moral scrutiny. His commitment to ethics over profits – excuses – are an example to us all.
The Lifetime Patient
Tif’s advice to any dentist – experienced or newly qualified – is get to know your patients, follow them up over the long term and observe what is happening with their teeth.
I’ve often heard him say that the intraoral camera is one of the best tools he has. He photographs every single tooth at every appointment to observe the changes over time. (How many dentists do you know who show this level of diligence?)
Tif always says that a dentist won’t learn a lot by transforming a smile in one day. But they will learn plenty by reviewing that same patient every six months for ten years. I understand this – there is no substitute for experience.
The Replacement Event
“Your veneers will probably need replacing in ten years.” Go ahead and roll this phrase around your tongue a little. Strange, isn’t it.
Not enough dentists give proper consideration to the inevitable replacing of their work years down the line. How often might that be? What happens if a single veneer falls off? Can you reliably replace a veneer some seven years later? Can the patient afford it? Can they be bothered to do so or are they more likely to put up with a mouthful of failed restorations?
It is often a jaw-dropping lightbulb moment when dentists hear Tif talk about this. As dentists he says, they are responsible for educating their patients about the ‘replacement event.’
I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in on and listen to lots of consultations. Only a tiny fraction ever cover replacement timescales, costs and other factors.
Success takes Sacrifice
You can learn a lot about somebody from their children. I once had the pleasure of hosting Tif Qureshi’s son Aden at my home while he completed work experience.
He was a polite and helpful young man who integrated easily with our family. He always cleared dishes after eating, was quick to offer help around the house, and proved himself to be a mature communicator when dealing with adults. In the workplace, he was a bright lad too and had his dad’s knack of always asking the right questions.
All of this doesn’t just happen by accident. It is parents – not Instagram – who are the real influencers!
Aden is a credit to Tif – and proof of my theory that you can judge a man by his offspring. And Tif has achieved this while making huge personal, familial and work-life sacrifices while spreading his non-invasive gospel.
In the podcast, Tif talks at length on work-life balance and how his wife is incredibly understanding of the time he spends teaching away from home. He has missed out on plenty – including his wife’s 40th birthday and other family milestones.
As a fellow workaholic, this hits hard.
I’ve found a fantastic work-life balance in recent years. But I have regrets, too. I’ve missed events and found myself not always being fully present because of work concerns. Switching off is tough when your mind is preoccupied with work!
I know the moment when Tif’s children saw him lecture in New Zealand was a hugely proud one for them – they saw firsthand why their dad is one of dentistry’s most in-demand speakers.