The online continuing education platform founded by Dr David Sarver is out to advance the delivery of orthodontic continuing education while emphasizing esthetics and an interdisciplinary approach to treatment.

By Alison Werner

As one of the leading minds in orthodontics, David Sarver, DMD, MS, has lectured over 400 times. Orthodontists from around the world have flocked to hear him speak on advancing both the art and science of orthodontics. But more often than not, they would travel to hear him speak for 90 minutes, maybe 2 days at most.

Upon completing his most recent book, Dentofacial Esthetics: From Macro to Micro, he realized he wanted to offer the orthodontic community something more. He didn’t want them to trek to Birmingham, Ala, where he practices just to hear him lecture for a weekend about the concepts in this book. He wanted to create a platform that would allow orthodontists to not only hear from him but other leading minds in the orthodontic field, and eventually other dental specialties, and have access to their insight on a continuing basis—and all from the comfort of their own office or home.

To make this a reality, Sarver, with more than 40 years in private practice and orthodontic education, teamed up with longtime collaborator Jeff Behan, a communications expert and president and founder of VisionTrust Communications, to build The Sarver Institute. The institute sets out to elevate online continuing education with its membership platform for orthodontists and other dental specialists. The goal is simple: create an academic community that not only encourages orthodontic specialists to see a bigger picture, but also encourages interdisciplinary treatment.

Each month, members will have access to a never-seen-before 1-hour CE course presented by Sarver; and then every quarter a new, never-seen-before 1-hour CE course featuring a member of the institute’s clinical and business faculty. First up is KLOwen Braces Founder and CEO Brandon Owen, DMD, MS, the inventor and patent-holder of Stride Custom Braces and an orthodontist with over 15 years in private practice. Owen lectures internationally on lingual and digital orthodontics and TMD. Each faculty member is chosen and curated by Sarver.

“We decided the time is now to create an educational platform that paints not only my picture, but that of people like Brandon that I know to be bright,” says Sarver.

And he has a simple promise for members: They can count on good, scientific, research-based material, not sales pitches. “When he did his module, Brandon knew that if he busted out a sales pitch, he’s out of here,” Sarver adds to emphasize his commitment to product neutrality in the courses.

On top of that members have access to an online forum and a unique “office hours” feature. The online forum serves as the institute’s campus quad—this is where everything happens, just like on any university campus. There, members can talk to each other, much as they would in their private Facebook groups. As Behan explains, faculty will also upload their own cases and encourage discussion there; and members will be encouraged to do the same. They also recently added a section where faculty can post Pearls. Often these tips and tricks will be filmed by faculty members in their own practices during the course of their work day. The Pearls section allows faculty to share these off-the-cuff educational nuggets with their students. And during live office hours members will be able to interact directly with faculty members, including Sarver, on a monthly basis.

Sarver and Behan have dedicated themselves to producing content that elevates the material. This isn’t your typical “talking head and slides,” as the institute’s website puts it. Behan, who has been in video production for over 20 years, is filming each course presenter in a studio and bringing the camera chairside to give the viewer a level of detail that isn’t possible even in an in-office course. The videos feature full screen clinical footage, demonstrating procedures in real time. The production quality should make sitting through a course more like watching an episode of TV.

“It’s a different format altogether,” says Owen. “I think the fact that it is more of a multimedia format—rather than just here’s a person and here’s a slide deck, which becomes very orchestrated—makes it more conversational.”

In the first course, titled “The Soft Tissue Paradigm,” Sarver presents an overview and clinical examples of his outside-in approach as illustrated in his book Dentofacial Esthetics. That book in fact serves as a sort of outline for many of Sarver’s modules. As he sees it, his courses are an opportunity for those who bought the book, and maybe looked at the pictures, to dive into the substance.

The substance that Sarver wants orthodontists to take away is that they need to see the patient as more than their occlusion. They need to see the whole face and give patients the esthetic outcome they want and collaborate with other specialties to make this happen.

As Owen puts it, what The Sarver Institute is offering is an opportunity for orthodontists and dental specialists to dive deeper and really change how they practice. More often than not, orthodontists attend CE courses for an hour here, 30 minutes there, and really just walk away with Pearls. Something Owen himself has experienced in the continuing education lectures he’s attended throughout his career, including those presented by Sarver.

“I heard the content the first time, but I didn’t really get the message sometimes until the second or third time hearing Dr Sarver talk,” says Owen. “But then you hear it the second or third time and it sinks in. You can really find and pick up the nuance going over the content again.”

The Sarver Institute is making its content available on-demand (and available for repeat viewing), while also adding the forum and office hours to further enforce the material being taught. “Unless you assemble [the material] in a meaningful way, you are never really going to change the way you practice,” says Owen. “I haven’t seen this high-level diagnostic clinical viewpoint presented in a way that the masses can really sit down and digest it in a meaningful way before.”

And while the course programing currently is skewed towards orthodontics, The Sarver Institute and Sarver himself are committed to making this a community for all dental specialties focused on esthetics. Sarver—who is a fellow of the American Academy of Esthetic Dentistry—will be adding instructors and course content that incorporates the other specialties as the institute moves forward.

“Our hope is that the content will appeal to all dental specialists, especially those who interact with orthodontists on a regular basis, because we truly believe that what’s going to elevate the entire profession is if we can get everyone to think more about the full spectrum of what they can offer a patient. David already thinks this way, but most orthodontists don’t. So that’s why you see that emphasis,” says Behan. To that end, The Sarver Institute is making the program free for orthodontic residents.

“Our mission is to elevate dentistry by showing practitioners what is possible, teaching them how to communicate that to patients, and then helping them deliver it. The Sarver Institute goes beyond orthodontics exclusively, integrating all forms of esthetics, encouraging interdisciplinary treatment,” says Sarver, “We are building a worldwide community of professionals dedicated to being the best in their field, lifting their practices and communities in the process.” OP

Alison Werner is the chief editor of Orthodontic Products.