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It is beginning to seem like many moons ago that I was content and practicing routine general dentistry in a small town in Connecticut. I wasn't in a rut, but I was not really excited by what I was doing. Each day was pretty much the same as the next. I guess I would call it complacency. I was in an insurance-driven family dental practice doing above-average work with little that was challenging. I was looking to do some more cosmetic dentistry, and I had heard a few lecturers mention the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. So I became a member and went to an AACD conference.
When I first joined the AACD, I thought I was a pretty good cosmetic dentist. I was right. But it took going through the Accreditation process for me to realize what excellence in cosmetic dentistry is all about.
I was blown away by the quality of the work I saw, but I was even more impressed by the attitude of the speakers and members. These people seemed to realize that they had something special, and they were confident they could deliver it to their patients. I was hooked.
I started to look at my practice differently. I began to realize that almost everything I did had a cosmetic component to it (OK ... maybe not the root canals or the extractions!)
Instead of waiting for patients to ask me if I could fulfill any of their cosmetic orders, I began to diagnose those needs. I started looking for possible cosmetic deficiencies and asking my patients if they had any concerns about what I observed, or any other cosmetic issues.
I was surprised to find out how many patients wanted whiter, straighter, or otherwise better-looking teeth. But they never mentioned it because they didn't know there was a possibility that anything could be done. I just assumed the patients knew what I could do, but I had never told them.
I started talking about what I was learning at AACD meetings. I bought brochures to help me answer questions about cosmetic dentistry. I took a lot more photographs of the work I was doing and developed a "before-and-after" book to show patients. (Eventually, I developed a large slide collection. Perhaps you have seen it available on eBay — in the obsolete section!)
I began doing more cosmetic work. My "eye" got better, and my results improved. I gained more confidence. Evidently, this was apparent to my patients because my case acceptance percentages increased.
I also increased my fees and dropped many insurance programs after continually hearing about these subjects at AACD meetings. I lost a few patients, but the ones I gained wanted a higher quality of work (or maybe I just presented a higher quality because these patients were new to my practice and I did not treat them in my old and routine manner). My income began to rise.
I devoted more time to continuing education since I realized there was so much more to learn. AACD members were excited to share their new ideas, and I wanted to share in that excitement. I learned more, and I made sure the people in my area knew it via press releases. I presented more options to my patients, and to my surprise, more of them accepted the higher-quality choices.
I bit the bullet and decided to seek Accreditation. I failed. But this was the first step of the best learning experience of my dental career. Instead of getting discouraged, I went after it with a vengeance. I utilized AACD mentors. I took courses. Eventually, I improved my skills. I began to understand what excellence really looked like, and I was getting better at producing it.
Earning my Accreditation was, and still is, the greatest single achievement of my dental career. I had proved I was an excellent cosmetic dentist to those who understood how to judge it. The biggest dividend was self-confidence.
Contrary to popular belief, I did not get a ton of instant referrals from the AACD Web site and the organization's 800 number. I did receive a few. But the level of my treatment planning improved. The quality of what I could do began to circulate. New patients arrived at my office looking for better levels of cosmetic service. Word of mouth still drove new patients to the office. My patients' smiling mouths with whiter teeth helped attract new patients who wanted the same results.
I continued to grow by being part of the AACD's Accreditation examiners and mentors. I spent some time in AACD politics and governance and worked on some committees.
I continued my education by taking countless cosmetic courses. I did some lecturing. I increased my knowledge of what options were available, and how to assemble them into a comprehensive treatment plan. I learned how to present the options for patient financing. I was no longer hesitant to present the best possible dental treatment available. My practice's reputation grew in the community.
I would like to share a secret with you. None of what I have just mentioned was the best part of my AACD experience. That distinction belongs to the friends I have made in the Academy. My greatest benefits of joining the AACD have been the camaraderie and deep relationships I have been fortunate enough to develop.
The annual reinvigoration of these relationships while simultaneously taking continuing education courses has me committed to never missing an AACD conference for the rest of my career. Dentists sometimes have a tendency to bore their nondental friends with shoptalk. At the AACD Annual Scientific Sessions, we can spend a few days with colleagues who share the same appreciation for the value inherent in delivering a high level of cosmetic dentistry. We can talk about the details, share techniques, and stimulate each other to achieve excellence.
In the end, what the AACD has provided me is education, challenge, fulfillment, growth, financial independence, self-confidence, healthier and happier patients, and some of my best friends. I have to say, it has been worth every second and every cent. I encourage you to take a taste for yourself.
Marty Zase graduated from Tufts and was a clinical instructor in restorative dentistry. He has a Mastership from the Academy of General Dentistry, Accreditation from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and a Fellowship in the American College of Dentists. He is a Past President of the AACD, and serves on its Board of Accreditation Examiners. Dr. Zase practices in Colchester, Conn. Contact him at email@example.com.