Expand your horizons!

With the right mentor and a focus on continuing education, you can achieve new heights in dentistry, while forming lifelong friendships to help you along the way.

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by Joseph A. Blaes, DDS

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During my formative years in dentistry, I was fortunate to have a wonderful mentor who taught me the value of continuing education. When I finished my two years in the Navy, I thought that I knew it all! I was ready for my own practice.

I came home from the Navy in time to celebrate the Fourth of July (my father-in-law's birthday). By August, I was set up in my one-chair (with plumbed treatment rooms for expansion) office. In November, my mentor, Dr. Roy Wolff, called wanting to know if I was going to attend the Chicago Midwinter Meeting in February. I told him that I could not afford to go, and he told me that I could not afford not to go.

My wife, Sue, and I took the train to Chicago in February and stayed at the YWCA behind the Conrad Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. The Conrad Hilton was headquarters for the Chicago Dental Society's annual dental meeting.

One of the highlights of that trip was attending the Saturday meeting of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration. This experience started me on a career-long study of the business side of the dental practice, and it was the first of many February trips to Chicago. I don't think I have missed more than one or two since that first meeting.

I found that attending workshops and seminars, especially the ones held out of town, was not only great for learning from the presenter, but that networking with other dentists and their teams could be even better. It seems that when dentists get together out of their home environment, they are much more open about their practices — especially about what is going wrong! I have met many fascinating people and have formed lifelong friendships at meetings. If you haven't tried this, you are really missing a learning opportunity!

Dr. Wolff got me involved in several study clubs, encouraged me to begin speaking, and helped me get on the program at some of the big meetings. One of the study clubs where I was a lecturer focused on orthodontics and met in St. Louis three times a year and in another city for the fourth meeting. The study club was composed of about 250 general dentists and pedodontists from all over the country, but a good many of them practiced in the Midwest. In the early '70s, we were using a closed-circuit TV set up to demonstrate the orthodontic cases. It was quite a scene!

I became more active in the AADPA, and, in the late '70s, Dr. Wolff was instrumental in helping me become a member. I have remained active in this Academy and will become its vice president at our annual meeting this month. The group has a wonderful program each year at its annual meeting. It is a meeting that you should look into coming to every year. As Dr. Wolff said, "You can't afford not to go!"

"So what?" you say! "I get along just fine attending a couple of local meetings and reading all the magazines we get. I can keep up with all the new stuff that way."

Sad to say, you are wrong; you are only scratching the surface! I am happy to admit that I have been a life-long, continuing-education junkie. I have taken many courses in dentistry, as well as other areas of interest outside of dentistry.

I believe that before you begin treating patients with some technique that you read about in one of the dental magazines or books, you should take a hands-on training course in that technique. Then study more about what you have learned, and make careful case selection your primary concern. With experience comes confidence, and with confidence comes enthusiasm for the technique.

When I became interested in orthodontics in my practice, I began an in-depth orthodontic-study course. In the late 1970s, my practice began to shift to more of a hygiene-driven model, and I looked for courses that would give us more direction and training in periodontics. I took the entire team to a soft-tissue management course because I felt that this was an area where everyone in the office had to understand the concept. As a result, everyone on my staff became an advocate for prevention.

During the early 1980s, my team and I decided to quit doing amalgams. This was our first giant step into the world of aesthetic dentistry. I started doing more composites and porcelain inlays and onlays, and began changing smiles with veneers. There were not many courses available on aesthetic dentistry at the time, so much of what I did was by trial and error. It was not a comfortable position to be in. With the information we learned as a dental team, I began teaching over- the-shoulder courses in my office so that others could learn. This has grown into a hands-on workshop on aesthetic provisionals and a two-day, hands-on workshop on preparing, temporizing, and cementing veneers that I now present all over the country. Call my assistant, Genna, at (866) 274-4500 for more information.

My focus on continuing education and the many people that I knew in dentistry were two of my strengths that attracted Dental Economics when they began looking for a new editor in 1996. I convinced the management of PennWell (parent company of Dental Economics) that I knew enough people and had enough contacts in dentistry to pull together some great editorial content. Based on your response, I think that I can say I was successful. Now this continuing-education junkie gets to attend every major dental meeting in the world and also gets to speak at many of these meetings.

Based on my own experiences and those of many others that I have observed over the years, I can tell you with confidence that continuing education can be a life- changing experience that will help you give your patients the very best dental care. It can teach you to be a better dentist, to have more fun in your practice, and to be more profitable. Not a bad trade-off for a little time out of the office!

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