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Cosmetic dentistry can have a positive impact on everyone, from you to your patients.
You are sitting in a lecture, early in your career, seeing amazing restorative dentistry - the implant-supported crown, porcelain restorations or Class IV composite resin shown on the screen blends seamlessly into the surrounding dentition, the tissue architecture and health are ideal and the final smile is drop-dead gorgeous.
You can barely tell which teeth have been restored and if you hadn’t seen the pre-restorative images firsthand, you might question whether any dentistry had been done at all! You think to yourself, “Those patients have to be thrilled! As a provider, it must feel really good to deliver results that look like that! Might I be capable of providing dentistry to that level?”
The reality is that anyone with drive and determination can excel in the area of cosmetic dentistry. The opportunities and rewards of excelling in cosmetic dentistry range from improving outcomes for patients, to growing networking opportunities, to enriching one’s sense of purpose, to expanding career boundaries. An initial goal of improving skills can open the doors of opportunity in several directions.
Become a better dentist
Early on, the motivation is all about acquiring the skill set to be able to provide excellent cosmetic dentistry: improved knowledge in handling and finishing of composite resin, the nuances of photography and shade communication, the artistry of smile design and so on. But that’s just the start - learning to skillfully manage occlusion, seeking out specialists and partnering with laboratory technicians with similar vision, adding and subtracting soft tissue, replacing missing teeth with implants, developing ovate pontic designs, improving communication skills - the list goes on.
It is exciting and invigorating to be a student of the art and science of cosmetic dentistry; there are so many nooks and crannies to explore and master. All disciplines are important for optimizing results, but having the knowledge only gets you so far. One must learn to implement and deliver excellent results. As Thomas Edison said, “The value of an idea comes in the using of it.”
For many, becoming accredited in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) provides a framework in which improved results must be achieved in order to be successful. Accreditation provides a standard and goal that helps dentists and laboratory technicians achieve a high level of excellence across a broad range of cosmetic solutions. For the authors, accreditation in the AACD was an indispensable part of the journey to becoming a better cosmetic dentist. It is a distinction that patients seeking cosmetic dentistry value and search out - another bonus.
With improved knowledge and skill in the area of cosmetic dentistry comes happier patients and more word-of-mouth referrals. Patients are diagnosed more thoroughly when the doctor has learned to appropriately, responsibly and effectively incorporate esthetics with other diagnostic parameters such as functional, biomechanical and periodontal considerations. A comprehensive diagnosis results in more inclusive treatment recommendations and, ultimately, outcomes that are attractive and built to last. The appointment book stays full and the practice is more productive. The confidence of the doctor and the team increases, which in turn increases patients’ comfort levels.
Imagine a patient comes to your office for the first time with a discolored, chipped front tooth, a problem she has been living with since childhood. Her parents could not afford to repair the tooth. She relates how she was made fun of in her youth. As a result, she has deep emotional trauma that she has carried with her for years. She has sought you out because of your reputation and skill in the area of cosmetic dentistry and the fact you are an accredited member of the AACD. She is trusting you to restore her tooth and her smile. You convey confidence when you describe the treatment options and show before and after images of other patients with similar problems and solutions - and the patient feels comfortable moving forward with treatment as a result. When the treatment is complete, words cannot describe how happy the patient feels. You can see it in her face. You know your journey to excel in the area of cosmetic dentistry was all worthwhile. However, the journey really never ends. As dentists, we are constantly striving to give our patients the very best that dentistry has to offer in all disciplines. That’s what we all want for our patients every day.
Network with like-minded people
Having a passion for cosmetic dentistry introduces you to others who feel similarly. Even though people are at various places in the journey, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other. To study and connect with like-minded people is an amazing treasure. These relationships inspire us, motivate us, and stretch and grow us. At first we are the mentee, soaking in all we can, and then we grow to be the mentor, sharing all we can.
The AACD has a powerful and formalized system of mentorship as part of its credentialing program, and it is there for the taking. Other teaching institutions, such as the Kois Center, also strongly promote mentorship. It is wonderful to be around people who are committed to seeing others grow and succeed, doing something purely for the betterment of others and the profession, without expecting anything in return. It is powerful and impactful and the kind of thing that builds enriching, lifelong friendships and fortifies the profession with a nurturing culture to pass along to future generations.
Purpose and joy
How many people can say, “I truly enjoy going into work every day”? Most of us will spend more than 90,000 hours working at our career over the course of our lifetime. That is a lot of time if you don’t find purpose and joy in your chosen profession. If you talk to people who excel in the art and science of cosmetic dentistry, they love what they do!
As Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” But from personal experience, we feel the counter is also true, “The only way to love what you do is to do great work.” There is an inner peace that comes from excelling at your craft, striving to be your personal best. Advanced skill and expertise leads to predictability. Predictability leads to less stress and greater confidence. Having the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our patients, staff members and colleagues provides significant joy and, in turn, enriches our lives.
Have you ever had a patient cry tears of joy when you deliver a case? The emotional connection that today’s patients attach to their appearance and self-image is stronger than you might imagine. Seeing tears in a patient’s eyes as they take the first look at their beautifully crafted new smile in a hand mirror is a humbling experience, for both the dentist and the team. Knowing that you performed the cosmetic and potentially life-changing enhancements that evoked this powerful emotional response is one of the unique rewards of our profession. The hug you receive right after is a strong statement about how much your patients value your expertise.
Expand career opportunities
Excelling in cosmetic dentistry often creates collateral opportunities. Patients aren’t the only ones who value an esthetic outcome - the profession also takes notice of exceptional results. Opportunities for teaching, publishing, partnering with the industry in product development and leadership tracts all start to present themselves. These various avenues broaden our horizons, expand our relationships and provide additional pathways for personal growth. We may need to grow our speaking or writing skills, further enhance our photographic documentation or improve our leadership training - all good things.
As the potential for growth and opportunities are limitless, you may find yourself pushing your previously perceived limits to achieve excellence in all areas of your life: professionally, personally, financially, physically and emotionally. The possibilities are endless.
Patients are not able to judge the dentistry by many of the criteria with which we judge our dentistry - fit, imperceptible restorative margins, prep design, etc. However, patients do have an opinion about how the restoration looks, whether it be a restoration in the smile zone or in the posterior aspect of the mouth. For many patients, all dentistry is cosmetic and appearance becomes a key element upon which the dentistry is judged and we as the providers are critiqued.
Excelling in the area of cosmetic dentistry can open up a number of opportunities, personally and professionally. It starts with enhancing knowledge and skills in the area of cosmetic dentistry. What’s holding you back from your cosmetic dental journey?