Inside Dental Assisting
May/Jun 2011
Volume 7, Issue 3

A Team-Based Approach

The AACD advocates the vital role of dental assistants in cosmetic dentistry.

John Sullivan, DDS

The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) mission statement outlines the organization's commitment to "encouraging the highest standards of ethical conduct and responsible patient care" throughout cosmetic dentistry.

A skilled dental assistant plays an invaluable role in achieving and maintaining such standards, says John Sullivan, DDS, the current AACD president. As the role of the dental assistant in cosmetic dentistry continues to evolve and grow along with the profession, the AACD's focus on education and advocacy continues to evolve and reflect that growth as well, Sullivan says.

In the past, cosmetic dentists typically took a very aggressive approach to treatment, in many cases cutting away significant amounts of tooth structure and placing porcelain on teeth, he explains. In recent years, however, the Academy has espoused a concept that Sullivan describes as "responsible esthetics," which encourages avoiding the removal of tooth structure whenever possible.

Delivering proper, responsible cosmetic dental care requires precisely following a series of very specific steps—isolation, retraction, preparation, etching, and bonding, for example. Few, if any, of these tasks can be carried out successfully without the "fine-tuned coordination" between a doctor and a qualified dental assistant or assistants, says Sullivan.

Fostering a collaborative, team-based approach to cosmetic dentistry is a key focus of AACD's ongoing education and advocacy efforts. To that end, the AACD provides educational opportunities that benefit the entire dental practice staff. "It's not enough for the doctor to become educated and then come back and try to teach a staff," he says. "If we can actually have situations where we learn together, it all translates back to the office so much better."

The organization offers a variety of e-Learning and online CE courses (which can be found on its website, www.aacd.com), and the 27th Annual AACD Scientific Session—which was held May 18–21 in Boston—offered guest speaker presentations and hands-on courses geared exclusively toward dental assistants. This year's meeting featured sessions dedicated to team communication as well as a number of hands-on "skills courses" on materials, photography, and technology.

"We wanted these courses to be designed to allow the assistant to go back to work the Monday afterward and put those skills to work immediately," he explains.

Dental assistants in some states, unfortunately, may find themselves unable to apply some of the skills they acquired at the 2011 meeting.

Indeed, widely varying licensure laws may limit the scope of duties that assistants can perform in some states. AACD would support a change to more uniform standards that allow dental assistants to fully use their talents.

"You find a huge level of frustration when you talk to dental assistants who have moved from state to state," Sullivan explains. "They're frustrated because they have skills they're not able to use."

Addressing the lack of consistent standards across states, however, is "a tough battle to take on," he admits.

"The biggest issue with licensure is that it's a state process. We're finding that each state sets their criteria for licensure and responsibilities based on what their own perceived needs are," he says. "Oftentimes, we're seeing that those perceived needs don't make much sense."

Still, the AACD "truly supports each staff member's ability to practice to the full extent of their state's law," Sullivan notes, "whether we disagree or agree with the law at the academy level."

In an effort to enable more dental assistants to put their skills and training to use in the future, AACD has increased its efforts to promote the utilization of dental auxiliary skills. AACD representatives often travel to individual state organizations throughout the United States to offer opinions on various topics and speaking in favor of expanding functions of dental assistants, which is aligned with our beliefs.

Going forward, ensuring that dental assistants are recognized as a crucial component of delivering ethically sound, high-quality cosmetic dental care is one of the organization's primary goals, Sullivan concludes.

"No dentist can treat a patient at the highest level without the help of a great dental assistant," he says. "A great dental assistant can elevate a practice to a level far beyond what you could imagine it to be."

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