Name: Lauren Shanard
Job: Cosmetic dentist
There's more to smiling than meets the eye. Research has shown that when we smile, we reap emotional, social and physiological benefits such as elevated mood, a more attractive appearance and boosted immune function. Even better, smiling is contagious, so a wide grin encourages others to flash their pearly whites.
Behind all those smiles are thousands of dental professionals who help people make the most of what nature and life events have provided. A small number of dentists specialize in the relatively new field of cosmetic dentistry — the practice of helping patients maintain lifelong oral health, function and appearance.
Lauren Shanard is the only certified cosmetic dentist in Vermont and one of 350 worldwide. She has practiced general dentistry in Burlington and Williston for 29 years and earned certification from the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry in 2012.
Founded in 1984, the academy has more than 6,000 members and provides continuing education, conferences and oversight of cosmetic dentistry in 80 countries, according to its website. AACD certification is generally a five-year process.
"You have to take a written examination, and then you submit five particular case types," said Shanard. "They are judged by a group of examiners, and, once you pass the case types, you are invited back for an oral exam. Then you achieve accreditation."
Shanard now serves as an AACD board member and examiner, and she travels the world to continue studying with colleagues. But most of the time, she's at her Williston practice with seven employees, providing patients of all ages with everything from routine cleanings and fillings to complex crowns and dentures.
We caught up with Shanard to learn more about her work, industry advances, and the art and science of cosmetic dentistry.
SEVEN DAYS: Why did you become a dentist?
LAUREN SHANARD: I became a dental hygienist as a first step in my dental career. I worked in many places around the United States just for fun. It was an opportunity to work and travel. I saw lots of different office situations, and I saw the fact that patients weren't always being treated fairly and well, and they didn't know it, because they trusted the person taking care of them.
As altruistic as that may sound, that's what spurred me to apply for dental school. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be able to have more control in terms of how my patients were cared for, and I began a really clear focus on quality dentistry, as opposed to profit-driven quantity.
SD: What do you like most about being a dentist now?
LS: I enjoy the wonderful relationships I have with my patients, and I'm passionate about rebuilding a smile that's been devastated with years of wear, or someone that's had an accident, or someone that had a domestic violence situation where their teeth tell the story of what this person has been through. I love the reconstruction and rehabilitation of a smile to give back somebody's confidence and their ability to seek employment, to hold down a job.
SD: How does your work on the AACD board affect Vermonters?
LS: The [AACD] is the gold standard for education in smile design and basically rebuilding smiles that have been damaged or worn out. I'm affecting policy and quality on the national level. People seek out doctors that are accredited because of their additional level of expertise, because just getting to the point of being able to do the case types for accreditation requires so much continuing education.
SD: What advice would you give to someone who's considering becoming a dentist?
LS: Getting good at the basics is a good place to start. And don't stop with your dental training, because what you learn in dental school was about 2 percent of what you will learn in your career. And it's everyone's obligation to their patients to continue learning, because you cannot provide the best quality care if you don't learn how to do it.
Technology is a big piece of what we do, and technology advances so quickly from year to year that, if you just decide you're going to do what you learned in dental school, you won't be very happy. You'll be left behind.
Dentistry is a very exciting profession at this particular time. There have been so many advances in the materials that give us more options. For instance, porcelains, for veneers and crowns, have evolved into multiple different types of materials, with different hardness factors, colors, translucencies and overall characterizations. You can choose different materials for different situations in different locations in the mouth. A lot of dentists just choose one material, they get comfortable using it, and that's it. But there's a whole [gamut] out there.
SD: How many materials do you work with?
LS: Pick a situation, like a crown on a molar. There are 10 different types of materials that you could use for just a basic molar crown. But let's say the person grinds their teeth, so you are narrowing your choices down to the material that's going to be a little more resistant to fracture and to transverse load. So you have to take all those things into consideration before you choose what's going to be the most durable in somebody's mouth.
All the different materials that you can use have different aesthetic features. So you can go from the most aesthetic, which is probably the least durable, to the most durable and the least aesthetic. There is a trade-off, and you have to understand the science behind it. You have to dig in and be a scientist about your work.