Focus On: Continuing Education

Thomas A. Dudney, DMD


Thomas E. Dudney, DMD, presents the benefits of clinical training that is experienced via live-patient, hands-on dental continuing education.

Q: Define live-patient hands-on program.

A: It is a type of program where dentists, accompanied by their appropriate team members, bring one of their own patients to the course to do preplanned and pre-agreed upon clinical procedures under the supervision of an experienced clinical instructor. Hands-on programs allow the doctor and team to receive valuable knowledge and information with lectures and personalized instruction in a clinical setting. Whereas this format can be used for teaching different types of clinical procedures, I am most familiar with hands-on courses that are designed to teach aesthetic dentistry with an emphasis on smile design cases. From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, at the height of the aesthetic revolution, these programs were popular with the Las Vegas Institute, founded by Dr. Bill Dickerson; Aesthetic Advantage, founded by Dr. Larry Rosenthal; and PAC-live, founded by Dr. David Hornbrook; to name a few. Currently, some dental schools have begun to incorporate aesthetic programs into their curricula; many smaller programs—some affiliated with dental schools and others not—also exist.

Q: What are the benefits of these programs?

A: Most dental students, with few exceptions, receive very little if any training in aesthetic procedures. Therefore, graduates often lack knowledge and confidence to perform procedures that their patients are often requesting. Reading, attending lectures, and joining organizations like the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry can all be beneficial and help educate dentists who lack didactic knowledge in aesthetic procedures, but the combination of lectures and clinical training received in a live-patient hands-on program will maximize and accelerate the learning experience. One may want to improve his or her golf game by reading books or watching videos, but it is not as effective as hitting golf balls on a practice tee under the helpful instruction of a qualified professional. Thus, dentists can benefit from taking a live-patient hands-on program where they do actual clinical procedures in a clinical setting.

Q: What is the value to the dental team?

A: Because team members are encouraged to attend these courses, they get to share in the learning experience. Therefore, team members are more likely to “buy in” and support their doctor when making necessary changes to accomplish the practice and clinical goals. They also get to interact with other teams and share ideas and information about what is working for them, and what is not. These programs are very good at creating excitement for the team in providing this type of dentistry for their patients and for boosting confidence in the clinical skills of their doctor.

Q: What can be done to encourage more professionals to participate in these opportunities?

A: To encourage more participants, sharing information about the value of these programs helps, as do positive testimonials from doctors who have completed these courses. Many programs also allow the dentist to audit the course before committing to bringing a patient and their team. Making hands-on courses available to recent graduates at a significantly reduced fee could not only help enrollment but also be a positive experience. Some programs, through their laboratory partners, provide scholarships to qualified dentists to help defray costs.

Q: What role do dental laboratories play?

A: Labs play an extremely important role! During aesthetic procedures in smile design cases, the dentist must be able to properly communicate with the lab team. Patients want restorations that allow them to chew comfortably, speak normally, are long-lasting, and improve their appearance. So, the ability to communicate the proper information to the lab team is critical to the success of the case. In these courses, proper communication is taught and lab personnel are often present to contribute to the learning process. For example, the group I teach with, the Pacific Aesthetic Continuum, is supported by Corr Dental Lab, and either the chief ceramist and training officer Gary Vaughn or CEO Garrett Caldwell is present at each of the 2 weekends of every course. In this way, the attending doctors always get to discuss their case one-on-one with the lab team members who will be overseeing/fabricating the restorations. Furthermore, the lab teams benefit because they get to see the restorations seated on the patient instead of only seeing them completed on models.

Q: How do manufacturers and vendors fit into these programs?

A: They, like the dental lab teams, are also important! For example, a diode laser can be very useful in smile design cases, but often, many dentists have never used one. So, under the watchful eye of their instructor, and sometimes with a demonstration first, doctor-students can carry out a soft-tissue laser procedure on an actual patient. Then, the company representative helps to educate the dentist by making the laser available for hands-on use. This often translates into sales for the manufacturer based upon the right reasons since the doctor can see and experience the benefits the patient receives first-hand. This win-win scenario plays out repeatedly during these live-patient hands-on programs because doctors and their teams are exposed to many new technologies and materials that they not only learn about in a lecture format but, more significantly, also get to use them in a real clinical situation.

Q: Any closing comments on why doctors should consider this kind of learning venue?

A: While aesthetic procedures may not be as much in demand as they once were due to economic circumstances, patients are more knowledgeable and demanding about dental procedures these days. Therefore, patients will seek out dentists who they believe can deliver the very best aesthetic results. That is why doctors who lack the knowledge, expertise, and skills to confidently perform this type of clinical dentistry would greatly benefit from attending a live-patient hands-on program.

Dr. Dudney is a 1977 graduate of University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry. He is a member of the ADA, the Alabama Dental Association, and the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. He is also an accredited member of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics and a Diplomate of the American Board of Aesthetic Dentistry. Presently, he is the clinical director for the Pacific Aesthetic Continuum’s newly formed hands-on programs. He can be reached via email at or via the website

Also By Dr. Thomas E. Dudney

Creating a More Youthful Appearance: Multidisciplinary Treatment Planning

Interdisciplinary Treatment Expanded

Treating Erosive Tooth Wear With All-Ceramic Restorations