In his youth, Dr Qian Li,
Department of Orthodontics,
National Dental Centre
Singapore (NDCS), wore metal
braces to correct overcrowded
teeth and an asymmetrical smile.
Today, he helps other patients
with similar and other complex
As an orthodontist, Dr Qian has
gone through specialised training
in the field of dentistry to treat
complex cases of crooked teeth.
His personal experience of
receiving orthodontic treatment
in secondary school sparked his
interest in the field of dentistry.
“My case was not so severe.
Although I did not need surgery,
I required braces treatment
with some extractions to provide
adequate space to correct
crowding, bite issues, and midline
deviation,” he said.
“I could smile with confidence
again, thanks to my orthodontist, who turned out to be my
instructor during my orthodontics
specialisation course many
Despite discovering other fields
of dental specialisations as an
undergraduate dentistry student,
Dr Qian said that his interest in
the art of straightening teeth led
him to do a three-year Masters in
Orthodontics programme in the
National University of Singapore,
followed by a three-year post-
Masters specialist accreditation.
“The most challenging part
of this journey to become an
orthodontist was not the long
years of training, but the early
undergraduate years in dentistry.
It requires you to not only master
the knowledge and skills, but
also to manage patient with
compassion, and understand their
needs and priorities in life. There
is no one-size-fits-all treatment.
Some patients may prioritise
aesthetics, while others require treatment to correct their bite
issues and improve their ability
to eat,” he said.
Currently, most of Dr Qian’s
patients are aged between 12
and 18, although he has also seen
patients as young as seven years
old. Common problems among
this group are teeth eruption and
bite issues, which can deteriorate
without early intervention.
Older patients over the age of
60 usually wish to straighten their
teeth for a more aesthetically
pleasing smile or require teeth
movement before they can have
their dentures done.
At NDCS, orthodontists also see
patients with severe asymmetry
or discrepancies in their jaws,
which can result in significant
facial deformity and functional
problems. Other cases include
patients whose multiple adult
teeth have failed to erupt.
For more complex cases,
Dr Qian works with other dental
specialists, such as prosthodontists
and oral maxillofacial surgeons, to
plan for jaw surgeries and to achieve
the best outcome for patients.
Perfecting his art
Many people have the
misconception that braces is only
about straightening crooked teeth
and purely for cosmetic purposes.
“There are many reasons to
move teeth to a more optimal
position for long-term function
and maintenance, even if such
movements may not be easily
visible when the patient smiles.
It takes years to master skills in
diagnosing, planning and delivering
orthodontic care with minimal
risks, and possibly a lifetime to
perfect that art,” he said.
Explaining why he regards
orthodontics as an art, Dr Qian said, “Two orthodontists may achieve
a different bite or smile for the
patient, as they may have varying
perceptions of what is considered
a more aesthetic outcome.”
Witnessing the transformation
in patients who have completed
their treatment gives him
“Every patient case is a unique
one- to two-year relationship,
which plays a part in his or her
growing years. It is heartwarming
when patients say that they are
inspired by me to pursue a career
in dentistry,” Dr Qian added.
Evolving with the times
As Head of Dental Officers
Advanced Practice Programme at
NDCS, Dr Qian manages up to 40
junior dental officers. He stresses
the need to continuously learn and
adapt to the changing times to
stay relevant — for instance, the
rapid development of clear aligner
technology, which uses threedimensional
design and 3D printing technology
that can now aid clinicians in
diagnosing and planning the
patient care journey.
Outside of work, his interest in
technology is evident through his
hobbies. He was part of the
Youth Flying Club during his
junior college days, and now he
spends his free time learning
to fly planes in flight simulators
and familiarising himself with
developments in virtual reality (VR).
“VR can be a useful tool in the
future when conducting training
for dentistry or surgeries, but
it is unlikely to replace reallife
practice as tactility is still
key in the field of orthodontic
treatment,” he said.