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A Look Inside the AACD

Nov. 1, 2007
The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry is the world’s largest cosmetic dental organization.
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With AACD President Laura Kelly

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry is the world’s largest cosmetic dental organization. Currently, Laura Kelly is the first woman, as well as the first lab technician, to serve as AACD president. DE spoke with Kelly about several topics including the impact of women in the field, the AACD’s lab technician Accreditation program, and promoting excellence in the profession.

DE: What impact have women had recently in cosmetic dentistry?

Kelly: As we have seen, the number of women in dentistry is a growing trend. With more women entering the profession, their participation in leadership roles within organized dentistry is increasing as well. Women in dentistry can also pursue additional opportunities that exist in educational and research roles.

With this continued interest and involvement of more women in dentistry, I believe it will be a natural transition to see more women getting involved in leading our profession. This will add diversity, representation, and additional perspectives that will enhance and lead us into the future.

The AACD continues to see more women joining, and many are interested in pursuing lecturing and volunteerism within our organization.

My personal belief is that regardless of the gender, it’s really your commitment to continuing education, developing your technical and communication skills, and pursuing cosmetic dentistry with passion that can add to your personal and professional success.

DE: What is the significance of lab technicians in the profession?

Kelly: It’s truly amazing how the synergy between the technician and dentist factors into creating restorations for patients. It might seem odd to some, but as an AACD member, I have never felt any different from any other member. Most likely this is due to all of us sharing a common focus ... the pursuit of excellence in cosmetic dentistry.

It’s well known that technicians have always played an important role in dentistry. With the increase in consumer awareness and advancements in dental technologies, technicians are relied upon now more than ever to offer insight and deliver functional, esthetic restorations. Patients’ expectations have been raised and highly trained technicians are in demand. Patients want their dentistry to look natural and beautiful, feel good, and last a long time. This is cultivated through a professional’s strong commitment to continuing education and advancing his or her skills. Learning new technical skills, embracing technology, attending hands-on courses, and investing time in communication creates a bond between the technician and dentist that results in excellent dentistry. Cosmetic dentistry is a combination of art and science ... and the working relationship between the dentist and technician can greatly affect the outcome. Ultimately, spending the necessary time to nurture this important relationship definitely pays off for all involved.

DE: Regarding lab technicians, please tell us about the AACD’s lab tech Accreditation program.

Kelly: During the past 23 years, the AACD has encouraged the development of this important relationship by offering a variety of educational experiences at its annual Scientific Sessions for all dental professionals. Accreditation lectures and hands-on programs are a key aspect on this incredible journey. They increase confidence and success for technicians and dentists alike.

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Accreditation in the AACD is a similar process for dentists and technicians. To become Accredited, members take a written exam, attend two workshops, submit and pass five distinctly different clinical cases for dentists (three for technicians), and finally, take an oral exam. This evolution mirrors the testing of dental specialties and other stringent testing protocols. It also enhances the experience for candidates by providing “checks and balances” so they can receive the feedback needed to help their learning experience. The AACD had fewer than 100 candidates in the system in 2000. Now we are pushing close to 1,000 in 2007! We think this speaks volumes about the respect dentists and lab technicians have for the current process and for the desire of many of our members to seek Accreditation.

DE: What measures have been established to ensure the success of this program?

Kelly: Dentists and technicians interested in pursuing Accreditation in the AACD receive support and encouragement from their Academy colleagues. AACD has created a mentoring program, and the American Board of Cosmetic Dentistry and the Accreditation Committee, are always looking for ways to protect and advance the process. For instance, if candidates have problems with scoring well on the written exam, we are able to identify these issues and recommend how and where they may further study to enhance their chance of passing. The clinical cases are examined anonymously, removing any potential of a bias. The workshops conducted at our Scientific Sessions allow candidates to learn exactly how their cases will be judged, so that they can sharpen their eye and be better prepared before sending in cases. The oral exam is set up for case verification since the cases are evaluated anonymously. It allows an examiner to ask any questions about a candidate’s clinical skills.

What happens behind the scenes is important, too. Having been an examiner for several years, I have witnessed the efforts of our Accreditation Committee to ensure that the process is fair and consistent. Examiner calibration is mandatory, resulting in a more objective testing process. Accreditation is challenging, and is an incredible opportunity for professional growth in cosmetic dentistry.

DE: How does the AACD promote excellence in cosmetic dentistry to the public?

Kelly: I am glad you asked this. Without question, there is increased awareness of the incredible possibilities of cosmetic dentistry. Much of this is really timing for us ... thanks to the Extreme Makeover phenomenon, the explosion of direct-to-consumer over-the-counter whitening products, and overall focus on health and beauty. This has been combined with more dental marketing than ever before, creating a sort of “perfect storm” in cosmetic dentistry.

AACD feels a sense of responsibility to the public, and utilizes several strategies to position the Academy as the nonbiased resource for consumers and the media. Consumer and professional surveys are a priority. We will soon have more information to share with various media outlets. Also, our Web site,, offers in-depth descriptions and photos of cosmetic dental cases and free patient literature. In addition, the online AACD member worldwide search directory allows consumers an easy way to find a cosmetic dentist near them. receives thousands of visitors every month, so we know our name is getting out there. In addition, AACD maintains multiple partnerships with public relation firms, media training sources, and magazines to assure consumers look to AACD as their No. 1 resource when searching for a dentist who is committed to excellence and education in cosmetic dentistry.

DE: What special courses, speakers, and events does AACD plan for its 24th Annual Conference next May in New Orleans?

Kelly: As always, AACD’s 24th Annual Scientific Session will provide cosmetic dentistry’s most comprehensive continuing education program. More than 150 of dentistry’s leading educators will present on an array of topics. They include advances in implant dentistry, new developments in restorative dentistry, lab technician techniques, office innovations, dental team training, and much more. With the backdrop of renewed New Orleans, the contagious AACD energy will be alive and well on Bourbon Street! This is one AACD conference that any dental professional interested in cosmetics cannot afford to miss. The complete education program opens for online registration at 8 a.m. (Central time) Dec. 7. Be sure to jump online early at to guarantee yourself a seat for our high-demand workshops.

DE: How has the AACD Charitable Foundation’s Give Back A Smile program made an impact in the world?

Kelly: The Give Back A Smile (GBAS) program was founded by Past President Dr. Wynn Okuda. Since 1997, AACD volunteers have helped restore the lives of survivors by restoring teeth at no cost that were damaged by domestic violence. AACD volunteer dentists, technicians, manufacturers, and team members have supported the program and given much of their time and resources to help. To date, we have restored more than 600 smiles, providing nearly $5 million dollars worth of donated services to domestic violence survivors.

The impact on people’s lives and the stories they share are truly amazing. Many of the survivors are mothers, so when our members restore the survivor’s smile, it actually affects the entire family - not just the person receiving the dental care. The cycle of abuse and violence can be broken, and we are proud to be a part of the healing process.

By restoring smiles (see photo montage below), survivors can once again look into the mirror and smile at the faces of their children without the reminder of damaged or missing teeth. Confidence is rebuilt, and many have shared how they are restoring their lives by moving forward with their family, education, and careers.

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The AACD has exciting plans underway for the future of GBAS. With commitment and hard work from our Board of Directors and Board of Trustees, committee members, staff, and volunteers, the dental community and public will continue to see a strong effort placed in creating awareness and making a positive difference in people’s lives throughout the world. In addition, it feels wonderful to give back and be a part of this program!

DE: What are the key factors contributing to the AACD becoming the world’s largest organization for cosmetic dental professionals?

Kelly: The AACD has existed for 23 years. We maintain the most recognized testing process of its kind in cosmetic dentistry (Accreditation), we make a difference in the world through charitable efforts, and we host the largest and most comprehensive Scientific Session each year in cosmetic dentistry. We welcome all dental professionals to join and become members, making the AACD dentistry’s most inclusive organization. I believe these are key factors to our longevity and continued success. In addition, we partner and form alliances with like-minded organizations and corporations, offer hands-on courses, and publish, which educates and informs consumers and dental professionals.

The one area that rings true for so many AACD members is the passion and excitement that engulfs our Scientific Session. You simply can’t escape it. Our members share ideas openly and enjoy networking with their colleagues. I have seen this camaraderie create an environment that is kind of addictive ... you want to return year after year so you can get recharged. The lectures are diverse, and you will always find something new each time. You will meet new friends and develop long-lasting relationships. The AACD affords a unique educational and entertaining experience for all. I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in cosmetic dentistry to join us in New Orleans next May to take advantage of what the AACD has to offer.

Laura Kelly’s career in the dental profession began in 1983. In 1993, she achieved Accreditation as a laboratory technician, one of the highest professional honors a dental professional can earn through the AACD. Kelly has been active in leadership of the Academy. She was the first lab technician elected to the AACD’s Board of Directors, serving two consecutive terms. She has also served as a member of the Board of Trustees, which supports AACD’s Charitable Foundation, and is an Examiner for lab technicians seeking Accreditation. Additionally, Kelly has served on more than 35 committees as chairperson and member. She is an author and has lectured on topics such as doctor-technician communication techniques and effective marketing strategies for dentists and laboratories.A native of Northern California, where she works and lives, Kelly can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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