by Michael R. Sesemann, DDS, FAACD
with contributions from: Christy Keene, Karen Yahnke, RDH, and Jacque Zalewski
Each year, I watch with great pride and respect as an impressive group of fellow American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) members take the stage to formally receive their Accreditation certificates. I see the beaming faces as their names are called, one at a time, each acknowledging the applause from the assembled body. You know each has worked hard to achieve this significant honor, and their joy, relief, pride, and humility are hard to miss.
But something else happens at this event - something perhaps not everyone sees. As each name is called, several team members stand in ovation, beaming with pride as their dentist-partner accepts the honor that all worked hard to achieve. While the plaque bears the name of the dentist, the intangible rewards are there for all. These rewards mean that everybody wins.
It has been 10 years since I returned from my first AACD Annual Scientific Session. I was energized by the spirit, continuing education, and camaraderie of the meeting. I signed up as an Accreditation candidate on the spot, although I had done only one indirect, all-porcelain restoration in my 15 years of practice. Realizing that I had a long road to go, I knew I would need my entire team working with me to become successful. On the plane trip home, I wrote team members a letter, asking each to join me in what I thought would be an epic educational journey. The journey would be one that would position us well in our community for the remainder of our careers. All team members agreed to join me with this endeavor. As a result, two and a half years later, I received AACD Accreditation.
It was not until last summer, 10 years later, that I posed a couple of questions to my staff. “What did Accreditation do for you? Knowing what you know now, would you join me again on the journey?” The responses I received surprised and impacted me. In this article, I would like to share a few excerpts of these responses with you.
Jacque, a chairside assistant in 1996, now functions as new patient coordinator. Besides helping manage our extensive digital library (Fig. 1), she oversees our marketing efforts, and assembles data for patients whose needs dictate extensive treatment planning (Fig. 2). Accreditation actually changed Jacque’s job description as well as her set of skills.
Here is what she had to say:
“Throughout Accreditation efforts, we made many changes in our practice, including a change in my role. When Dr. Sesemann returned from his first AACD meeting, he was ‘on fire.’ He shared that he would need to demonstrate various types of treatment, at a defined standard of excellence, to a panel of AACD examiners. He said we needed to start identifying cases that would allow us to demonstrate our abilities.
While we initially thought Dr. Sesemann’s enthusiasm was just another postcourse phase that wouldn’t last long, we soon learned that - at least this time - we were wrong. Our quest for patients with just the right clinical conditions became a mission shared by all. Initially, we took photographs of everyone. Then we did so at every step of their treatment. Cataloging the dozens of documentation slides of each patient taken before, during, and after treatment became a major task. Critiquing each aspect of the case was a group effort with each member of the team offering her two cents’ worth. When we fell short, we cajoled patients to return for fine-tuning.
It was a trying time, but with everyone’s help, we made it! The patients loved their new smiles. We saw a noticeable change not only in their confidence but our own. The knowledge we gained from this learning experience resulted in more sophisticated systems that we benefit from daily. We love taking patients from their vision to a new reality - efficiently, effectively, and with a predictable outcome.
From my perspective, the thanks we received for making patients feel better about themselves increased after Accreditation. My job became more fun and satisfying every day as I noticed smiles from patients who didn’t mind having the dentistry done.”
Christy was also a chairside assistant in 1996. Today, she is our lab liaison and large case coordinator. Her assistance in keeping us on time with cases, and making sure we have excellent office-lab communication, are critical.
Here is what Christy had to say:
“The day that Dr. S(esemann) asked the staff to take the Accreditation journey with him does bring back memories. Wow! We started the journey full of ambition, hopes, and dreams for the future to develop as a cosmetic dental office. I thought to myself, ‘How cool would it be to restore and give people the smiles they had always wanted?’ However, soon into the journey I received a reality check of just how much time, education, stress, and hard work would be needed for our office to achieve this goal.
Each day seemed to bring with it a new challenge. Some of the challenges included learning new materials, standardizing our photography (Fig. 3), understanding new dental terminology - which was well beyond me at that time - to dealing with the stress of finding the right cases to fit Accreditation guidelines. In addition, we had to work with patients to help them understand our vision and why our work had to be so precise.
To me, the Accreditation process opened a whole new meaning and way for us to help others. It was a proud moment in my life to know that Dr. ‘S’ had achieved his goal of becoming accredited, and that I had played a part. It is also an honor to have the plaque hanging in our office, and to be part of the team that endured the process and achieved this goal together.
But the real honor comes when patients you have worked with give you a hug and - with heartfelt tears and 100 percent sincerity - say ‘thank you,’ pointing out that they would never have thought they could have a smile like they do now. The experience speaks louder than words. So, if I were asked to take the ride again - through the hard work, the roller coaster of learning, stress, satisfaction, pride and joy, I wouldn’t even have to think about my answer. The answer would be a simple and resounding Yes!”
Our hygienist, Karen, has thoughts to share as well:
“I’ve been Dr. Sesemann’s hygienist for 21 years. So I was part of his practice before, during, and after he became accredited with the AACD. As a result, I’ve seen everyone on the staff grow from this experience. Of course, Dr. Sesemann took the most continuing education courses, but the entire staff attended many of them. We all increased our dental knowledge - not just in esthetics but also in comprehensive dentistry. Some staff members even developed new skills in photography and lab work that resulted in new staff positions. We worked as a team to turn Dr. Sesemann’s new vision, knowledge, and skills into a new way to practice.
Professionally, I’ve benefited from the Accreditation process by expanding my knowledge beyond the areas of hygiene and periodontics. I feel more confident when answering patients’ questions about their dental needs and making suggestions about what we can do to help them improve their smiles and overall dental health. Personally, I’ve benefited a great deal because I served as Dr. Sesemann’s direct bonding case for his Accreditation examination. I now have a beautiful smile and an amalgam-free dentition! People compliment me on my teeth all the time.
Do I think our staff would want to go through this journey again if we knew the time and effort that were involved? Absolutely! It is fun to have happy patients who thank us for their new smiles. In some cases, they thank us for changing their lives! I cannot imagine returning to the old way that we practiced.”
I cannot tell you what a thrill it was for me to read that Accreditation was an excellent journey for team members as well as for myself. It was one that allowed us to bond closer, and have a fulfilling purpose in our chosen profession.
These are words a boss can always dream of, but - in reality - rarely find. I am thankful to have learned about the AACD’s Accreditation process.So if the time is right, and you are ready to embark on an educational journey that will elevate your skills in cosmetic dentistry to new heights, then gather your staff members and let them know of your plan. In addition, enlist their help. No dentist has passed the Accreditation exam on his or her own. The journey becomes an educational process for all staff members. You will experience one of the thrills of a lifetime when you walk across the stage and accept the award on behalf of the entire team. When all is said and done, then everybody will be a winner.
Dr. Michael Sesemann has been an accredited member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry since 1999, and is the academy’s 35th Fellow. Dr. Sesemann served as chairman of Accreditation for the AACD from 2001-04. He serves the academy as a member of its Board of Directors and as an Accreditation and fellowship examiner. Contact Dr. Sesemann via the Web at www.smilesonline.net, or call (402) 392-2880.