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You just became a dentist . . . so now what?

May 15, 2015
The moment finally arrived. After years of dental school and successfully passing state board exams, it was time to make a living. My dental education was completed . . . or was it?

Nicholas C. Davis, DDS, MAGD, FAACD

The moment finally arrived. After years of dental school and successfully passing state board exams, it was time to make a living. My dental education was completed . . . or was it?

To quote G. V. Black, the father of dentistry in America, "The professional person has no right to be other than a continuous student." But how could this be? I'd worked so hard all those years.

The truth was this: Although I was eager and excited to enter the professional world and practice dentistry, little did I know how much I didn't know.

* * *

After graduation, all new graduates embark on two new and exciting journeys in their dental careers: their professional experiences and their educational experiences. The new graduate's dental future will become a reflection of these two journeys. They differ for everyone, just like the aspirations of each graduate. In many ways, the balance and design of these formative elements determine the essence of whom a dentist becomes. To give you insight into what this looks like, I'd like to share my experiences with you.

Upon graduation it seemed I was ready, but I didn't know where to begin. My dental education had not prepared me for that eventuality. Although I felt I was well prepared clinically, I was green and slower than seasoned, experienced dentists.

Like many, my professional future would be shaped by practice experiences that arose through opportunities rather than by being planned. My professional evolution included associating in a private practice, working in a high-paced dental clinic, and teaching in a dental school as a clinical instructor. I later accepted an opportunity for a partnership in a dental practice, but it soon became evident that establishing my own private practice would be my preference and my destiny. Through these experiences, I would find various aspects in each that I liked or disliked, which ultimately shaped the nature of my practice. As a private practitioner, I especially enjoyed building relationships with my patients while providing them with comprehensive quality services.

Professional experiences grow and unfold on their own, while postgraduate continuing education involves more of a selection process. Courses often arrive as a solicitation to the dentist and are presented like a menu from a restaurant. In my view, this is backwards. The dentist should first be choosing a restaurant that offers a variety of food that is preferred. Similarly, courses should be chosen by searching out pathways to support long-term goals and reinforce areas where knowledge is weak.

For years after graduation, I selected courses to renew my license and to connect with local practitioners. It would seem that most of those courses revolved around the local and state dental associations and universities. The CE courses were random in subject matter and course content. If a course seemed interesting, I attended it. When I was introduced to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), I found the association helped guide and balance my postgraduate continuing education. More specifically, it was the AGD fellowship and master's programs that became instrumental in formulating a broad spectrum of continuing education. The course categories were diverse, encompassing various dental disciplines with a measured blend of lectures and hands-on courses. My knowledge became extensive, but my education remained compartmentalized, much like it was in dental school.

Although I had a passion for crown-and-bridge dentistry and all the restorative aspects associated with that process, something was still missing. One day, a periodontist, whom I considered my mentor, suggested I attend a comprehensive occlusion continuum. There are many excellent programs that offer this type of postgraduate education, but he suggested Dr. Pete Dawson's. I attended all of his continuums and developed a well-grounded understanding in the fundamentals of oral health care that tied everything together-occlusion and treatment planning! I would heartily recommend these vital components for all dentists in their postgraduate education.

The evolution in adhesive dentistry created new excitement and paved the way for today's bonding techniques and cosmetic dentistry. This became very exciting for me because I found personal gratification in restoring occlusion. Those techniques helped enrich my cases with improved esthetic options for restorations and smile enhancement. By this time I was an experienced dentist, and I had grown confident in my ability. The problem was that I had no way of truly evaluating my cosmetic results. It was only through the eyes of my patients, staff, and myself that the results I was able to achieve were hailed a success. However, this was a purely subjective analysis.

I soon discovered the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) and was then surrounded by peers with similar interests. The annual conferences covered every aspect of cosmetic dentistry and supporting disciplines with lectures and hands-on courses. There was electricity in the air, and the conferences were exciting and fun. It was refreshing to select courses from such a vast array of opinion leaders in the cosmetic world. Occlusion courses from Drs. Pete Dawson, Frank Spear, and John Kois were typical examples of the broad spectrum of options for attendees. The same was true for courses in composite bonding and adhesive dentistry. With this potpourri of presenters, it became easier to select additional courses elsewhere from these key players in cosmetic dentistry.

The AACD accreditation program, in particular, focused my education and sharpened my expertise in cosmetic dentistry. This provided me with a scale to more accurately measure and rate my cosmetic skills. This was not only a journey in itself but one that was personally, professionally, and financially rewarding. An AACD industry survey conducted in 2013 showed the financial benefits of the accreditation program in actual production numbers (figure 1).

If I had it to do all over again, I would have started with the end in mind. I would have developed a personalized continuing education program focused on fulfilling my passion and professional goals. Although I have developed confidence and refined my expertise, my passion still rages. There is always more to learn!

Nicholas C. Davis, DDS, MAGD, FAACD, is a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, where he currently teaches esthetic dental courses. Dr. Davis is a past president of the AACD and Orange County Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He has hosted and produced numerous television programs on oral health and authored the "Smile Design" chapter in Dental Clinics of North America. He is passionate about dentistry and maintains an active cosmetic practice in Newport Beach, California.

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