Bringing people together
By Emily Leighton, MA’13
As a child, me and my crooked teeth were regular visitors to the Graduate Orthodontics clinic at Western University. I remember the bright fluorescent lights, the taste of the artificially-flavoured jelly used for dental impressions and the thrill of choosing new coloured bands for my braces. At 12 years old, I often opted for varying shades of pink and turquoise.
I recently returned to this tucked-away corner of the university campus, greeted by the familiar, smiling face of Dr. Antonios Mamandras, chair of the Graduate Orthodontics and Dental Facial Orthopaedics Program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
“How is your family?” he asked right away, remembering that my sister was also a patient and inquiring about my parents, who spent many hours in the clinic’s waiting room.
The clinic space has changed and evolved over the years since I was a patient, with several renovations and facility updates. The entrance and patient waiting area was moved in 2014, freeing up space in the clinic for additional chairs.
But many details remain the same. Portraits of each class continue to line the wall of the clinic’s main hallway, wrapping around the door to the resident common room and along the outer wall of the wet lab.
Changing hairstyles and the size of eyeglass frames reflect different eras as we travel along this photographic timeline. Dr. Mamandras points out former students and shares stories from their time in the Program. Described by an alumnus as having a “memory like an elephant,” he knows exactly what each person in the 30 or more picture frames is currently doing - where they live and work, as well as their career highlights.
During his 37 years at Western, Dr. Mamandras has worked with more than 120 residents and guided treatment for hundreds of patients.
According to the long-serving chairman, the key to the Program’s success is relationships.
“The most important thing to me is relationships,” he explained in his characteristically gentle tone. “I am fortunate to have built wonderful relationships as a clinician and teacher, and also as a colleague and friend.”
Originally from Greece, Dr. Mamandras attended the University of Athens for dental school, beginning his studies at the age of 17 on a full scholarship.
He arrived in North America in 1976 with ambitions of pursuing orthodontics. Settling in Minnesota initially, he applied to several postgraduate programs, including the University of Manitoba.
He recalls Manitoba’s interview process with amusement - it landed on Halloween 1977 and required an eight-hour bus trip across the U.S.-Canada border. Dr. Mamandras was travelling on a European passport, and wasn’t sure he’d actually be allowed into the country.
It was during this arduous journey that he met his mentor Dr. Arthur Storey, then the new Chair of Orthodontics at Manitoba, who agreed to meet him at a border crossing to conduct the interview.
With Dr. Storey’s help, Dr. Mamandras received funding to cover the cost of attending the program, and he moved to Winnipeg to begin the three-year educational experience.
“I didn’t have $500 in the bank at the time,” he said. “This generosity and the opportunity afforded to me is why I fell in love with Canada.”
Dr. Storey encouraged the ambitious young professional to consider teaching, and when a faculty position at Western opened up, he applied.
“I’d never heard of London, Ontario, but I decided to try it out,” said Dr. Mamandras. “My initial two-year commitment has become 37 years.”
Starting on faculty with the Graduate Orthodontics Program in 1982, Dr. Mamandras became Chair in 1994. Under his leadership, the Program transitioned from two to three years, and the class size decreased from four to three residents in each year.
“With these changes, residents have more time to complete cases in the clinic and conduct research,” he explained. “Our graduates enter practice with a better, more comprehensive education.”
Dr. Mamandras feels an immense responsibility toward the Program’s residents. “This is a $1-3 million investment, if you consider the program cost and the income our residents give up to attend,” he said. “I want to ensure everyone leaves feeling like that investment was worthwhile.”
Alumnus Dr. Christos Papadopoulos, MClD’17, now working in New Brunswick, says the Program’s commitment to learners was evident in the people-focused approach to training.
“The Program’s strength is creating an environment focused on education, personal growth and togetherness,” he said. “Everyone works together to make it an exceptional experience.”
As the common link between class years, Dr. Mamandras often acts as a career matchmaker for new graduates. “Our alumni will call me if they are looking to hire for their practice,” he said. “They know the Program produces excellent orthodontists.”
He considers himself a matchmaker in the real sense as well, happily telling me about graduates who met in the program and went on to marry and start families together.
“I joke that one of my roles as Chair is to be a matchmaker,” he said with a laugh. “I spend more time with the residents than my own family, so I get to know them quite well.”
For Dr. Derek Tomson, DDS’10, MClD’16, the family atmosphere is carefully cultivated. “The moment you enter the program, Dr. Mamandras will be your biggest advocate, promote you the most, celebrate your accomplishments the loudest,” he said. “He is like a proud dad for each of his residents and is so fiercely loyal to us.”
In recognition of his contributions, a fund has been created in Dr. Mamandras’ name. In 2018, alumni, friends and corporate partners contributed more than $760,000 toward the fund.
The active involvement and support of alumni is not only a source of pride, it is a key component of how the Program operates. Several former residents serve as clinical instructors, some driving hours each week to teach in the clinic.
“We would not have a program without these part-time faculty members,” said Dr. Mamandras. “I’m the quarterback, but I cannot win the game alone.”
The Program also hosts biennial reunions in London, most recently in October 2018. “It is evident how much the Program means to everyone that has been involved with it by the overwhelming success of the reunions,” said Dr. Jennifer Curran, MClD’18. “Everyone who has had the privilege of attending the Program graduates with life-long friendships in addition to a top-notch orthodontic education.”
The Program turns 50 in 2023, a celebration Dr. Mamandras is looking forward to with great anticipation. He says he has enough notes and stories to write a book.
“Like with any family, there are many stories to tell,” he said.
For more information on how you can make a donation to the Antonios Mamandras Endowment in support of Graduate Orthodontics, please contact Kayla Kalijarvi at 519-661-2111, ext. 82637 or make a gift online.