An Interview with Sage Dental’s Director of Learning and Development

Joseph Finnegan
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Recently here on Dentistry Today, we shared news of Sage Dental taking a trip to Brazil as part of an educational program sponsored by Neodent. A small group of Sage Dental dentists worked with a team of local providers in Curitiba to conduct implant surgeries on patients. The event was part of the Sage Academies program, which enables dental professionals from Sage’s 80-plus practices to receive valuable ongoing training in a wide range of areas that include implants, overdentures, clear aligners, and more. The program included two days of education and training related to Neodent’s dental implant system and two days of live surgery.

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Natalie Curtis – Director of Learning and Development – Sage Dental

In response to this, we secured an interview with the Director of Learning and Development at Sage Dental, Natalie Curtis, who was in Brazil with them and helped organize the whole thing.

Q: What spurred on this mission to take Sage Dental to Brazil?

A: Our partnership with Straumann Group and Neodent allowed for us to plan this incredible educational opportunity. Our partnership and the utilization of Neodent in our practices opened up a lot of training opportunities for us. ILAPEO is actually the research and education center for Neodent. It was owned by Dr. Geninho Thomé before he sold Neodent to Straumann, so they still have an incredible partnership with the school.

As I always say, an important part of dental education is a hands-on experience, and here in the US, we don’t necessarily have the ability to place implants on numerous live patients in one sitting. You can do a few here or there but you can’t do the number you can out of the country. Our goal was not only to educate the doctors, but also for them to feel comfortable because we want them comfortable placing them in the offices.

Every mouth is different, but a doctor can never be too prepared. When traveling to other countries like Brazil, the regulations allow for them to place on live patients, throughout multiple days, back-to-back, and ILAPEO specifically trains on immediate loading, which truly challenges the clinician to think about placement in a completely different way.

Here in the US, we typically seat the implant, bury the implant to allow for healing, and then we finalize the process at a later appointment.

This process gives some time for any changes that need to be made, but in the ILAPEO setting, everything’s done right away and the patient gets their crown delivered the next day. I would say, if they can master at ILAPEO, then they’re prepared for any placement here in the US.

Q: How eye opening was the experience for you all to see how underserved the population was for care? I saw that pointed out a bunch in the initial release.

A: It wasn’t necessarily that they were underserved, Brazil has a huge dental population. Dental care has just been neglected. Just as here in the US, dental care was not a huge focus many years ago.

People didn’t realize that the oral cavity is the pathway to other diseases in the body until recent years. I think the most eye-opening part for us was the number of patients that they treat in a facility on a daily basis, how many implants are coming in, and how many All-on-X cases are accepted by patients.

All day, every day, that clinic was full. These patients have access to some of the best clinicians in the world and then amazing clinicians like our own, that are training, that are willing to let them do the dentistry on.

Q: How did the team react to the new surroundings?

A: The team was super excited. They were incredibly excited to learn from some of the best clinicians, researchers, and professors that we have in the world. The education support they had surrounding them at ILAPEO made them super comfortable with any case setting in the dental chair each day. They got to sit and plan those cases with the clinicians, with the prosthodontist, with the implantologist—all of them.

Our doctors were prepared once that patient was seated. I say for our doctors, it was like a kid in the candy store because they had access to anything and everything. Any tool, any implant, any technology. Clinicans, providers, researchers were all there for their support, and it was incredible for them to see the lab technicians downstairs actually fabricating their cases to be delivered. It was a very eye-opening, incredible experience for them.

Q: Will Sage Dental be returning to Brazil with this program? Or taking it elsewhere?

A: We are returning to Brazil. Our next academy program has already started. We’ll start our online education, it’s a full process of online and in-person courses before we go to Brazil, so that they have education support before they get there. Our past group, we kept it small because it was our first one. This year, we have 26 doctors enrolled in our implant academy, and 28 in the All-on-X restorative.

We’ve also got 4 going into the All-on-X surgical and they were the 4 that graduated from ILAPEO this year. Since ILAPEO is the education facility for Neodent, we will keep the program there in Brazil.

Q: After having seen a lot of patients, where will they go for follow-up treatment?

A: Although they saw our clinicians, and many asked to see our doctors again because they loved them, the patients will be seen by the clinicians on staff at the ILAPEO clinic for any follow-up treatment. We may have placed, say, 3 implants on the patient, and maybe they needed a full arch on the upper, so they will come back and another clinician will complete that portion of the dentistry.

Q: This next question was basically answered already but I figured we’d zero in on it. How did your team benefit from the experience? Besides having such fantastic resources at your disposal to learn.

A: I love this question; they benefitted greatly! They experienced some very difficult cases that had to be immediate load of the implants and being able to carefully study those x-rays, the CBCT with the clinicians on staff really helped them prepare for the placement technique and what was about to be seated when they did the live surgery. The program allowed for the providers to be extremely confident in placement and they’ve had incredible success since they’ve gotten back into their practices.

Now, for myself, I’m not a clinician. I’ve been in dentistry for 12 years, but I benefitted greatly in other ways. When you build a program like this, you want it to be beneficial for your providers. Some have more knowledge in this area than others, so finding that happy medium where everyone benefits can sometimes be difficult.

You want them to be excited, you want them to learn without feeling like they’ve heard the information previously in another course. The vision I had of what the experience would be like was blown out of the water by the actual experience. We got to tour the Neodent manufacturing facility, which was incredible. We met with their engineers that are creating new implant designs. The classroom education was top notch.

The support the clinicians provided, their dental assistants—just seeing the process form start to finish and experiencing it was life changing. Not only for the patient but also for the doctors. When we said goodbye, it was actually pretty hard. We spent days with these wonderful people and it was an incredible relationship building experience, as well, with the ILAPEO team and clinicians around the world that were there training.

This opportunity allowed me, as a Director of Learning and Development in dentistry, to build an even more robust program for this year now that I know what the process was like from start to finish.

Q: That transitions us perfectly into the last question. Overall, what would you say your biggest takeaway from the experience was?

A: I’d say that the biggest takeaway was, that no matter how knowledgeable a clinician may be, there’s always room to learn more. Whether it’s from a peer, another professor, a clinician from another country, or a rare patient case, it all comes down to more experience.

This showed me that although the education path created included online courses, in-person education, and even had a few live patients here in the US as part of training; that taking them out of their environment and providing the education and support at the level ILAPEO did was unmatched. I do believe that no matter the clinician, everyone can learn a valuable experience and information from the education here.

I look forward to sharing the experience with more providers as we progress over the next year. It’s going to be incredible!


The educational opportunity provided at ILAPEO by Sage Dental’s partnership with Neodent and Straumann is unparalleled. They are not only helping people who need it, but they’re also helping to make better, more confident doctors. It’s a truly great thing and we here at Dentistry Today wish them nothing but luck as this program continues on.

Thank you for making time to speak with us and we hope you’ll come back to chat further down the line.