Advancing Interdisciplinary Dentofacial Care Through Mentoring
Richard D. Roblee, DDS, MS
Interdisciplinary dentofacial therapy (IDT) has been a relevant topic for more than 25 years.1 Yet, despite it becoming a successful means of providing both oral and overall healthcare, IDT care urgently needs greater engagement from established clinicians and new dental graduates alike.
Younger dentists are facing numerous challenges: an expected increase in the number of US dentists per capita through 20352; significant dental educational debt (class of 2016 average was $262,119, almost twice that of 2003)3,4; self-expressed underpreparedness on the part of new graduates in pivotal disciplines like orthodontics, implants, and practice management4; and, lately, the growing presence of “corporate dentistry,” a centralized large-practice business model that exploits the aforementioned factors, offering new graduates an employee-based work environment that provides a much-needed income but little control over the dental practice.5
Dental service organizations (DSOs) are systematizing and streamlining dental practice marketing, management, and business intelligence, producing high-efficiency models like the one that fueled the retail success of Walmart.6 Strategies for traditional practices to compete with the DSO model focus primarily on customer satisfaction. However, such an approach is not fully realistic given the environment of industry consolidation7 in regard to increasing insurance restrictions, growth of government-contract use, and expansion and industry maximization of mid-level dental provider services. Moreover, a survey of 292 dental professionals sounds a sobering alarm: a significant number reported that they are not comfortable with what the corporate dentistry model requires them to do.8
What does this mean for young “up and coming” dentists who hold on to the ideal of practicing in a way that distinguishes them from peers who embrace the corporate model out of necessity? Most corporate models and the collaborative practice goal of true IDT care are not totally compatible. Corporate practices strive to keep services in-house and even expand services beyond provider competencies, which limits appropriate referrals and collaboration with outside specialists who are IDT focused. We must remember: a core key to professional competency is knowing when to refer.
The American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry (AAED) plays a key role in interdisciplinary dentistry, connecting clinicians and helping them plan and improve their clinical focus—and, indeed, oral health overall. A centralized emphasis on the IDT approach enables AAED to be a resource for clinicians to provide the highest level of care in the face of obstacles that threaten interdisciplinary excellence. One pivotal component of AAED’s mission is mentorship—a critical prerequisite for collaboration as an IDT team member.
This critical void in knowledge that is imparted through mentorship is a priority issue for AAED. In surveys, dental grads (class of 2013) reported that they feel underprepared for orthodontics, implants, and practice management.4 While corporate dentistry may ease the management burden, it does not necessarily support and mentor young dentists in becoming high-level interdisciplinary practitioners who will be working closely with specialists such as orthodontists and implantologists (an increasing number of whom are general dentists like them) who are not corporate-based.
Improved collaboration among all medical and dental professionals enables diagnosis and correction of functional root causes of dentofacial issues, notably airway dysfunction, sleep-disordered breathing, and craniofacial deficits. Without such interprofessional mentoring, clinicians risk treating symptoms only.
The upcoming AAED Interdisciplinary Summit in August will feature a high-profile collection of IDT-focused practitioners who will share insights to this synergistic approach and expound on the concepts of collaboration and comprehensive care as key drivers of interdisciplinary mentorship. We are hopeful that this gathering will be the first of many quadrennial AAED Interdisciplinary Summits. The AAED has applied to host the next International Federation of Esthetic Dentistry (IFED) meeting in 2021, partnering with IFED for the second AAED Interdisciplinary Summit and bringing together all specialties and IDT providers on an international stage.
The IDT approach gives dentists an opportunity to “give back” and extend a hand to those struggling to build careers, through collaboration and mentorship. For dentists of all ages, this means making comprehensive care a high priority and creating opportunities for associate dentists, especially those with debt and/or are working in a corporate setting, to continue mentoring younger dentists. It also means leading by example, mentoring and informing others of the available opportunity scope in IDT so they can embrace that level of care. Giving back also encompasses encouraging young dentists to participate in study clubs and post-graduate learning. Finally, it means supporting AAED’s efforts to involve dental students and graduates alike, to find and “grow” the future leaders in interdisciplinary esthetic dentistry.
About the Author
Richard D. Roblee, DDS, MS
American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry
Fayetteville and Springdale, Arkansas
1. Roblee RD. Interdisciplinary Dentofacial Therapy: A Comprehensive Approach to Optimal Patient Care. Chicago, IL: Quintessence; 1994.
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