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Raising the bar

March 1, 2007
What does it take to raise the bar? For the 1993 Green Bay Packers, a struggling, mediocre NFL team, it took Reggie White and his intention to win.
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by J. Fred Arnold, lll, DMD, Accredited Member, AACD

What does it take to raise the bar? For the 1993 Green Bay Packers, a struggling, mediocre NFL team, it took Reggie White and his intention to win. When White - a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end - was recruited by head coach Mike Holmgren, he promised the team and fans a Super Bowl victory. Four years later, he delivered on that promise when the Packers won their first Super Bowl in more than 30 years. “Reggie made us a better football team ... no question about it,” said Holmgren, who credited White for raising the bar for performance and bringing out the best in his teammates.

Like Reggie White, AACD Accreditation has raised the bar for excellence in cosmetic and restorative dentistry in my hometown of Lexington, Ky. As a result, Lexington has developed a reputation as a place for great cosmetic dentistry. I know what you are thinking: “Lexington? No way! Maybe there is ‘bread-and-butter’ dentistry there, but not cosmetics like in Los Angeles or New York City.”

While we may not have a world-famous dentist like AACD Accredited member Bill Dorfman of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” we do have the highest per capita number of AACD Accredited members in the world. With five Accredited dentists, one Accredited lab technician, and several more seeking Accreditation, it is clear that AACD Accreditation standards have raised the bar for dentistry as a whole in Lexington. This brings out the best in all of us, and establishes a higher standard of care across the board (see Fig. 1). Just like the Packers, we needed a challenge to take us to the next level.

We have seen amazing changes in dentistry during the last 25 years. An explosion of new techniques, materials, and equipment has influenced both diagnostics and clinical procedures. Implants have changed the standard of care. The advent of adhesive dentistry allows us to mimic nature like never before. Sadly, though, the increased complexity of these advances brings challenges to many general dentists who struggle with incorporating this modern technology into their practices.

While dental school curriculums encompass more than ever before, they cannot fully prepare students for the world of modern restorative and cosmetic dentistry. Unless someone raises the bar, it is often too easy for dentists to do what they have always done and never venture from their dental school comfort zone. This restricts their growth and ensures mediocrity. Moreover, when unprepared dentists attempt complex procedures, it can be like an amateur high wire act without a net. Failure is more likely and the results can create a huge gap between what is possible and what is actually happening.

Thus, the need for strong continuing education has emerged. A plethora of options now exists for the serious student. But how does one determine the direction to go and how does one know - after investing considerable time and money - that his or her skills measure up? That is where the AACD steps in, seeking to establish a universal credentialing process acknowledged as the gold standard.

Fig. 1: AACD Accredited members (from left): Cheryl Pearson, DMD; Wes Coffman, DMD; Laura Justice, DMD; Fred Arnold, DMD; Mike Morris, CDT; David Cash, DMD.
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The AACD credentialing process not only sets the standard for excellence in cosmetic dentistry, but also measures each candidate’s success in meeting those standards. While the AACD does not discriminate on the technique or the clinical style chosen by candidates, it does evaluate the excellence of the final result. This makes the Accreditation credential a universal standard attainable throughout the United States and the world. Whether you are from Kentucky or India, or trained at the Las Vegas Institute or Louisiana State University, you are on equal footing with peers from any number of other clinical backgrounds. Because the ADA has not yet recognized cosmetic dentistry as a specialty, with the corresponding board to measure competence, the AACD fills a void and ensures excellence in all who accept its Accreditation challenge.

I stumbled onto the AACD in 1997 while searching for solid continuing education. I found the AACD to be the best-kept secret in dentistry. I encouraged several of my friends in Lexington to join me, and we began the incredible journey toward Accreditation together. To support each other in the learning process, seven of us formed a study club (Fig. 2). Meeting every other month, we alternated presenting cases and reviewing what we had learned at our technique courses. I don’t know a better way to improve your dentistry than to show it to your peers - especially those down the street.

“The process of achieving AACD Accreditation created a heightened learning experience like no other,” said Dr. David Cash, one of my colleagues. “My knowledge of esthetics and the ability to ‘see’ were greatly enhanced. This naturally carried over into the care I delivered.”

The desire to deliver exceptional dentistry to our patients and be recognized by earning AACD Accreditation motivated us to work hard to achieve success. “I heard that becoming Accredited was difficult, and yet that made the challenge seem even more worthwhile,” commented Dr. Laura Justice. Dr. Wes Coffman noted, “Working hard toward Accreditation made dentistry fun and exciting because I could immediately see the great results with my patients.”

Fig. 2: A study club was formed in 1999 with new AACD members who were excited and eager to pursue Accreditation. The participants alternated presenting clinical cases for group feedback. As a result of the mutual support and camaraderie, six of the seven original study club members are now Accredited.
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The positive influence this has had on the dentistry in Lexington has been terrific. Our patients have been the immediate winners since they benefit directly from Accreditation-level dentistry every day. “We have become so conditioned to strive for Accreditation standards for each patient, it has become our routine,” said Dr. Cheryl Pearson.

“The patients may not understand exactly what Accreditation is or what it took to achieve it, but they do know we are credentialed, and they expect nothing but the best. We expect nothing less from ourselves.”

Recently, I ran into a dental school classmate at a meeting. He asked me if I was unhappy that there were now five Accredited dentists in Lexington. My response caught him by surprise. I think he expected the same “doom-and-gloom” negativity that competition sometimes breeds. I told him it was the best thing that could happen to me, the other Accredited dentists, and the people of Lexington. We have strength in numbers. The more visible the Accreditation credential is in Lexington, the more aware and educated the public is, who will seek our expertise.

The five of us in Lexington are busy and can’t make a dent in all the dentistry that needs to be done. Our specialists now routinely refer cases to AACD Accredited dentists because they are impressed with the results and know their patients will be happy. Other practitioners in the state have noticed this, and are actively working to improve their skills. Many more are striving for Accreditation. We not only welcome them, but mentor many of them. This is good for dentistry and professionally rewarding for us.

I have talked a lot about this journey to Accreditation. But when I became Accredited, the journey did not end. Instead, I just earned a first class ticket to continue. Accreditation opens a new world of opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities that make you a better clinician. Many of these involve teaching and mentoring others, which raises the bar higher. This allows us to give back to dentistry, and honor those who taught us.

“My teaching responsibilities, although challenging, give me great personal satisfaction. I hope that I’m making a difference,” commented Mike Morris, CDT, laboratory accreditation co-chairman for the AACD.

Accreditation is raising the bar for excellence in my hometown. It will in yours, too. I encourage you to discover what AACD Accreditation can do for you and your patients. It is time for you to join the excitement!

Dr. Fred Arnold graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry in 1984 and completed a general practice residency at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, in 1985. For the last 20 years, Dr. Arnold has practiced comprehensive restorative and cosmetic dentistry in Lexington, Kentucky. He is an Accredited member and Fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Arnold serves as an accreditation examiner and board member of the American Board of Cosmetic Dentistry, the credentialing authority of the AACD. He is also a co-founder of the Kentucky Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, where he has served in many capacities, including program chairman.

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