Andrea Shepperson leads the City Dental at Quay Park team. She has been a big influence shaping cosmetic and general dentistry in New Zealand. She is New Zealand’s only Digital Smile Design Master and Instructor and teaches dentists around the world about cosmetic dentistry.
When and why did you decide dentistry was right for you?
I had an after school job when I was 15, working for a Dunedin dentist called Malcolm Farry. I was the steri nurse – yes they had them back in 1977! He had a great group practice. I was a patient at the Dental school in 7th Form and they were teaching in small groups with students interacting with people. I liked the collegiality and the hands-on nature of dentistry. I liked sculpture, maths and art at school and dentistry seemed to offer all 3. So it seemed like a better fit than sitting in a Chemistry lab, bottle washing all day, or writing an English essay. Funnily enough I wanted to be a film and television producer first, as I was always involved in public speaking and theatre, and got to make a short film at school. Dad said I had to go to Uni so I could get a real job, so that went by the wayside.
What do you MOST love about your job?
Dentistry is a wonderful blend of art, visual calculation, materials science and communication. I get to work with my hands and creative mind. I’ve also expanded my role as a speaker, which has an element of ‘performance’, both visual and spoken. In my spare time I like to play with visual arts in my presentation, photography and video production. So that’s the interest in film and television coming through. I still would like to be more formally trained in cinematography and video editing.
You are New Zealand’s only Digital Smile Design (DSD) Master. Would it be fair to say DSD is your dental passion?
It’s a methodology rather than a passion, and I have tremendous respect for the methodology and interdisciplinary planning. Yes, I love it and couldn’t go back in dentistry without DSD concepts. I got involved in DSD as it seemed to be a digital version of the work I was doing through my training at the Kois Center, and with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. I love technology and particularly visual technology. DSD is a part of the continuum of future and digital dentistry, and it is one very good methodology that embraces digital visualisation and design, and analogue thinking. The analogue thinking has to be there in the first place, otherwise DSD is harder to implement, and that came from the Kois Center in Seattle. The DSD world also puts me in touch with colleagues globally who really are future thinkers and that is the part of DSD that I love most. Highly visual, creative individuals who think in terms of possibilities and then create them.
You have transformed many, many smiles. Is there one case that stands out? That not only changed the patient’s life, but yours also?
Every case is personal and special, and each patient has a story to tell about their desire for a new smile. Most of my cases are complicated, and involve tooth wear, trauma, decades of embarrassment and loss of self worth. So the transformations, not just in the smile, but in self confidence are really satisfying for me.
My job with DSD and dentistry in general is to provide something that looks like it has been made for an individual, and it lasts – where I can meet that person in 10 years time and we are both proud of the result.
We are working on a case right now which has taken years to execute. It is a woman who first saw me at age 16 with multiple congenitally missing teeth, and she wanted a new smile for the school ball. I created that with composite veneers and bridges while she finished growing.
The day I completed that case and saw the look on her mother’s face, it made me cry. I’m a mother too, so I knew how much that meant to her, to see her daughter transformed. She is now 29 and we are restoring her entire mouth with implants.
Tell us a bit more about the role you play, in training and mentoring other dentists.
I enjoy articulating ideas and helping dentists be clear and more confident in their decision making. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, and I like working with those who share that desire. Currently I run the 2 year Lumino GO programme, lecture for Ivoclar Vivadent Ltd, and run my own events. Every year I speak to the dental students at Otago, and this year I’m one of the speakers working with the NZACD Graduate Programme – an excellent mentoring programme for young clinicians to help learn the fundamental parameters of aesthetic dentistry.
I had access to that learning through the AACD in the USA and I’m delighted the NZACD Board has put this programme in place. Next year my education role ramps up with my own training centre. It is under construction at present but will provide a mini-residency curriculum on a variety of subjects with a digital focus. I’m looking forward to sourcing the equipment and materials later this year and will probably have some buying trips to China and Europe.
You’ve been practicing dentistry for over 30 years – what do you think have been the biggest changes in the field over this time?
Corporate dentistry of course, which didn’t exist in NZ and Australia when I graduated. I really enjoy being part of something bigger than my day-to-day existence as a single or associate practice. I get to work with talented people in the organisation, who have taught me a lot about systems, scale, corporate finance, patience and expectation.
Workforce changes to part time work with increasing numbers of women entering the workforce as dentists. The internet, which has opened the door to global collaboration and information exchange. In July I pre-recorded a webinar which was played at study group meetings all over Australia with DentalEd, an Australian education company. A friends sister contacted me to say her husband went to the meeting and heard me speak. I’d forgotten about it, but that seemed quite cool – that dentists were enjoying the evening and I was speaking virtually all over Australia.
I’m working on more webinars for Lumino dentists right now and the ability to go live and interact with colleagues all over NZ is a great part of dentistry. I’d do more of it to a broader dental community – just don’t have fibre on Waiheke Island in my neighbourhood yet.
The news media often reports of the state of oral health in our country. Do you think as a country, we should be doing better? Do you worry about the current state of oral health in New Zealand?
While I’m not necessarily a fan of a more taxes, I think the role of the food industry is significant in terms of our health. The latest study published in the Lancet had startling figures about oral health globally. Dental decay is on the rise and at completely unacceptable levels. It needn’t be that way. The fluoridation decision should sit with the Department of Health, not Local Bodies with scientifically illiterate elected members.
So yes I worry about the nations health on a number of levels, and increasing role of uninformed virtue signallers and the hijacking of historical decision-making that was sound and had societal benefits. The cost of dentistry is a burden for many and that will take systemic change – economic prosperity, socialised dentistry to the vulnerable. All big issues. I always liked the former Associate Minister for Health, DameTariana Turia, who rightly passed the dental responsibility back to the consumer.
She pointed out that our children receive free care up to age 18 to leave school dentally fit. She is right that our children should be leaving school dentally fit. We have a team of capable dentists and therapists working passionately to reach that goal. The reality is that many children do not emerge dentally fit – a modern diet takes it toll on young teeth, and access for children in mobile and transient populations is a challenge.
Where would you find you, when not in the practice?
My happy places are at home on Waiheke Island with my husband Sean, and my children when they are home from University. We have a property that was a holiday destination, but is now our home. It has about 1 hectare of covenanted established Waiheke bush, full of birds, and beautiful views back to the city and Gulf. I feel connected yet far enough away to disconnect from the stressors of dentistry. It is a very peaceful restorative place. The other happy place is when I’m in a room full of my international colleagues at some event around the world – usually Europe. I get a real buzz out of being with innovators in our field. That’s my Tribe and I really love dentists – they are conservative, thinking people with good values and hearts. They also know how to have a great party.
Finally, what makes you smile?
Family, first and foremast. My husband Sean has been away a lot over the last 2 years developing a 360 degree waste processing technology for the iron and steel industry. Its been tough having him commuting to Adelaide so I always smile when he comes home. Corny I know. Little bit of a love story there. He has been an endless supporter of my role in dentistry, and we approach life with shared project goals and always make time for a big family holiday. Fortunately our 2 children who are now 21 and 23 still want to have holidays with their parents. Probably because we pay to have their mates come along! They’ve inherited Sean’s sense of humour and they always make me smile. The doggies – Red and Blue – 9 year old golden border collies. Art, architecture, beautiful, visual things and heartfelt encounters.