Where to learn what you dont know

Aug. 1, 2000
Do not just rely on the courses your employer will pay for, but match your needs with the programs or

Do not just rely on the courses your employer will pay for, but match your needs with the programs or

institutes to ensure a win-win arrangement — knowledge enhancement.

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS

For the past six years, the phrase, "You don`t know what you don`t know," has been echoing in my ears. I first heard the phrase as I listened to one of Dr. Bill Dickerson`s cosmetic programs that was being sponsored by the New England Chapter of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Dr. Dickerson is the founder of the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (LVI), and, by the end of that day, I had revamped the hygiene procedure manual for the employer I was working for at the time. For me, esthetic hygiene was born that day. I joined the AACD and started down a path of consistent, never-ending learning in the field of esthetic dentistry, developing a knowledge base for the field of esthetic hygiene.

The critical link between a dental hygienist`s esthetic intellect and the success of a cosmetic practice is communication. If a hygienist does not know about adhesion dentistry, microdentistry, newer restorative options, optimal techniques and materials, esthetic evaluations, whitening, etc., then how can she share any of the knowledge she does not know with her clients.

So begins the domino effect. If the professional does not know, then the client will never know, and then the cosmetic component of a practice or the entire practice`s focus will not be known. What also is frightening is that some self-proclaimed "contemporary" or "innovative" hygienists do not know what they do not know about the latest and greatest in the field of esthetic dentistry, let alone esthetic hygiene. For the purpose of this column, I will deliver a brief overview on some esthetic dentistry programs:

- University-based continuing education programs

- Manufacturer-sponsored programs

- Professional associations

- Privately run dental teaching centers.

You may think that a great place to start this search is at your alma mater. The new graduates must be up-to-date with all of this cosmetic stuff, right? Wrong! Why aren`t dental hygiene schools at the forefront of comprehensive esthetic education? First, students must pass state boards to practice, so schools have an obligation to prepare the student in basic dental hygiene principles in order to pass the boards. All accredited dental hygiene schools share a similar basic curriculum. The challenge is finding where esthetic hygiene can be added into the dental hygiene curriculum (Another argument in favor of a baccalaureate degree as a minimum requirement into the profession of dental hygiene).

Second, many instructors lack clinical experience in the area of esthetic dentistry. Many full-time faculty members either do not participate in private practice or their clinical time is limited. Third, dental hygiene schools depend on validated, evidence-based research and controlled clinical studies. They find it tough to make speedy modifications, and esthetic dentistry/hygiene is changing and growing daily. Cosmetic procedures in hygiene school test tradition, and the solutions are as complex as the questions.

Universities — There are a wide array of university-based, postgraduate cosmetic programs. The format ranges from hands-on, over-the-shoulder, lectures, and/or any combination. Such dental school programs include Baylor University, Louisiana State University at New Orleans, Medical College of Georgia, University of Buffalo-SUNY, University of Minnesota at Twin Cities, University of Missouri at Kansas City, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Florida, University of North Carolina, and Loma Linda University.

Most lecture-based seminars and some hands-on programs encourage dentists to bring their team members. These venues are highly regarded for beginning or continuing with your esthetic education quest, but few offer agendas specifically for hygienists.

Manufacturers — Many dental manufacturers have actively sought to support dental hygiene by providing "educational grants" to offset the cost of the speaker`s expenses and overhead associated with hosting a seminar. Some have even completed the package by not only covering the presenter`s costs, but also by providing a "pre-fab" course. These programs offered by quality manufacturers are usually on the cutting edge of research and treatment modalities.

A requirement of such arrangements should be full disclosure to the audience about the speaker`s association with the sponsoring manufacturer. In addition, manufacturer-supported venues will showcase their products. To use an analogy, that "sales pitch" can range from a light drizzle to a typhoon. Another consideration is the speaker`s experience in presenting, expertise in the topic, and his/her credibility. Lastly, in the realm of esthetic hygiene, the choices are few and far between.

Associations — The expression, "You don`t know what you don`t know," should speak volumes to hygienists who do not belong to our professional organization. Membership in the Student American Dental Hygienists` Association (SADHA) and American Dental Hygienists` Association (www.adha.org) are absolute, unequivocal conclusions for students and licensed dental hygienists who desire unending professional growth.

Related organizations that provide journals, membership, resources, research, networks, and comprehensive continuing education and/or accreditation programs include the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (www.aacd.com); American Society of Dental Aesthetics (www.asdatoday.com); and American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry (www. prosthodontics.org).

The AACD has made progress during its annual sessions to include more programs for team members, including hygienists. However, I present a grand challenge for the AACD to develop an accreditation program for dental hygienists. Have you ever heard the following descriptive phrase from hygienists who have focused their careers on periodontal care: "I am a periodontal hygienist." With all due respect, I often want to respond with, "How are your credentials different from mine? What criteria have you completed to be able to use that prestigious label?"

Or do I just need to lighten up because it is just a frame of reference to our professionalism? Well, as someone who has been focusing on esthetics, I would like to be able to "walk the talk" and call myself an esthetic hygienist. But it needs to mean something — professionalism acquired through sweat, standards, credentials, examination, and accountability.

Private institutes — Private teaching institutes offer curriculums that incorporate all aspects of a cosmetic practice. Hands-on and over-the-shoulder dental programs are available with live clients in the treatment chairs.

A short list includes:

* The Aesthetic Advantage Inc. ([email protected])

* ExperDent Centers of Dental Excellence ([email protected])

* Accelerated Dental Learning Center (www.icadl.com)

* Clinical Research Associates (www.cranews.com)

* Cosmetic Dentistry 2001 (www.dentaleconomics.com)

* Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies (www.lvilive.com)

* Pacific Aesthetic Continuum~live (www.paclive.com)

As for dental hygiene education, the latter two are at the head of the bunch. PAC-live has a series of break-out sessions for office managers, assistants, and hygienists. The hygiene sessions consist of smile design, intraoral and extra-oral photography, lasers, and practice management.

Geri Caughey, RDH, e-mailed me during my research for this column that it was more valuable to her not to attend all the hygiene sessions, but to stay with her team while the doctor was prepping and (during the next weekend) seating the case. In her office, she usually only saw bits and pieces of procedures but never every step. "That part was priceless," Geri wrote.

LVI has a strong thread for dental hygienists in its "Evolutionary Hygiene in Support of Aesthetic Dentistry" seminars. Some of the topics include enrollment skills for periodontal restorative/esthetic care; hands-on clinical operatory sessions; laser therapy; and dental hygiene management strategies.

My beliefs about what you should do to get into the "esthetic knowledge zone" may contradict yours. But the profession will be stronger if it empowers hygienists to promote a myriad of beliefs. So as you tally the scores from the above list of resources, also remember that we have tremendous power as consumers of continuing education.

The reclamation of the dental hygienist`s postgraduate learning is important. Do not just rely on the courses your employer will pay for, but match your needs with the programs or institutes to ensure a win-win arrangement — knowledge enhancement. And do not be surprised to discover that the more you learn, the more you realize that you don`t know what you don`t know!

References available upon request.

Kristine A. Hodsdon, RDH, BS presents seminars nationally about esthetic hygiene. Her company, Dental Essence, is based in Chester, N.H. She can be e-mailed at www.dentalessence.com.