Dr. Elaine Halley, P-I Brånemark Award for Lifetime Achievement Recipient
From helping to create the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry to starting a UK branch of the Seattle Study Club, Dr. Halley has focused her career on providing dentists with the education they need to provide the best care possible.
Early in her career, Dr. Elaine Halley, who’s based in Scotland, spent a lot of time traveling to the United States to attend cosmetic dentistry courses, many hosted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). The level of education those courses offered just wasn’t available in the U.K. at the time, so traveling to the U.S. was the best way to expand her knowledge and sharpen her skills.
In 2003, Dr. Halley and a few of her colleagues, who were also constantly making costly and time-consuming trips, decided to change that. All were members of the AACD, and turned to the organization for guidance. AACD board members gave them a road map to help them start the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and offered support along the way. The academy’s first meeting was held in 2004.
Today, the organization is the largest academy for esthetic dentistry in Europe, and being part of the group that started it all is the accomplishment Dr. Halley takes the most pride in.
“Back then, services like veneers had no standards. Nobody was teaching it,” said Dr. Halley, who served as the academy’s third president. “There were other organizations but they were quite small and really for dentists who were already well established. We didn’t feel like there was anywhere we could go to learn how to improve our cosmetic dentistry skills, so we decided we’d create one.”
Dr. Halley has experienced much success since then, and today is the Chief Clinical Officer for the Pain Free Dentistry Group, a multi-office practice in Scotland, and still owns Cherrybank Dental Spa, the practice she opened in Perth in 1995. She also is a renowned dental educator focusing on digital smile design and a dental textbook author. Most recently, Dr. Halley received the P-I Brånemark Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dentistry.
The award was created in 2015 to honor the late Prof. Brånemark and to recognize exceptional clinicians who have advanced dentistry for society’s general well-being. Previous recipients include Drs. Myron Nevins, Tiziano Testori, Istvan Urban, Michael Cohen, Jörg-Rudolf Strub, Massimo Simion, Maria Lopez Howell and Leslie Fang.
Throughout her career, Dr. Halley has served as a mentor and leader, creating more educational opportunities for U.K. dentists and ultimately helping to elevate the level of care their patients receive.
A Passion for Education
After Dr. Halley graduated from dental school, she realized she still had so much more to learn—especially when it came to the business side of running a practice. She began going to business-related courses and writing articles on lessons learned, covering topics most dentists dread like balance sheets, cash flow and profit and loss. As soon as she started publishing articles, invitations to speak at various events followed. She accepted, and found taking on the role of an educator was a natural fit.
“When I’m teaching, I’m sharing what I’ve learned, which is different from sharing this is what I think I know,” she said. “I look at it more as we’re all in this together, and here are the lessons I’ve learned that have really helped me, and that I believe can help you, too.”
The Mentors Who Molded Her
The way Dr. Halley approaches both how she teaches and practices was shaped early on, she said, when she decided to take a year-long course with a famous, and formidable, dentist based in London.
“He was very systematic in how he organized everything,” she said. “We learned how to critique the science and then translate that into the systematic running of a practice so the patient received the ideal end result. He was the first person that linked science to the latest technology, and how to understand that but make it clinically applicable to what you do day to day, and how to raise the level of care for your patients.”
Other mentors include Drs. Christian Coachman and Bill Robbins from Global Diagnosis. They focus on systematic approaches as well, and taught her how to create a vision for her patients and her practice, and to be systematic in how she delivers on those visions.
Dr. Halley’s experience as Chief Clinical Officer for the Pain Free Group has influenced the way she teaches and mentors dentists, while her role as an educator has made her a better clinician.
“As soon as you’re teaching, it makes you question yourself,” she said. “You have to provide a clear explanation for why you do what you do. And students ask you questions that sometimes make you think about the way you work from an angle you never thought about before. It makes you so much more prepared, and it makes you reflect.”
A Different Approach to Teaching
Back in 2020, right before COVID hit, Dr. Halley attended a Seattle Study Club conference—and realized there wasn’t a branch in the U.K. There is now, and Dr. Halley is its director.
The Pathfinder Study Club in Edinburgh recently finished its first year, Dr. Halley said, and she loves running the club and the style of learning she’s able to offer through it. There are more than 250 study clubs around the world, with members meeting regularly to discuss the latest in dentistry and participate in interactive education.
“I really appreciate how much Dr. Michael Cohen has put into that small group learning format,” she said. “Many associate dentists from my group are members of the club. It’s really helpful to show people the difference between focusing on single tooth dentistry and the progression into good, high-quality comprehensive dentistry.”
The Benefits of A Multi-Group Practice
Dr. Halley took on her leadership role in the Pain Free multi-group practice 5 years ago, but also has experience with DSO groups. The biggest difference? Pain Free is run by a dentist, Dr. Mark Skimming, who is committed to helping dentists grow professionally.
“He makes sure all of the dentists who work in these offices are heard and cared for, and encouraged to develop to the best of their personal potential,” she said. “He doesn’t just look at dentists as doctors or providers that are here to do x, y and z. He finds out what their strengths are and helps them navigate their personal and professional goals. He allows them to develop in ways that suit them, and that creates a multi-disciplinary team.”
Another difference is dentists have the opportunity to buy in at a partnership level that’s affordable, she said. That creates a sense of ownership, allowing dentists to “feel like part of the practice fabric, and know that they aren’t interchangeable.”
Paving A Way For Women Dentists
Dr. Halley has served as a prominent key opinion leader as well as a respected educator and clinician for years, but few other women have taken the same path. While that’s starting to change, more needs to be done to encourage women to pursue leadership positions within the field.
All too often, women are left out of the conversation or don’t have the confidence to go after leadership roles. It’s a complex issue, but we can start to change it by first determining why women aren’t stepping up for these roles and then thinking about what can be done to better support them, Dr. Halley said.
“If women aren’t stepping forward, we have to find them, not just say, ‘oh, well, they’re not here,” she said. “That should be the strategy. There are very good women dentists out there, and if they’re not getting the opportunities, it’s time to figure out what support they need to be successful.”
Simplifying the Complicated
Dr. Halley published a book with Edra Publishing of Milan, Italy, “Smile Analysis,” in 2022, and said converting her image-heavy presentations into the written word supported by those images was an interesting exercise. She’s always enjoyed writing, and just like with everything else, she took a systematic approach to putting it together.
To find out more about purchasing Dr. Halley’s book, “Smile Analysis,” click here.
The textbook provides a pathway for dentists to move from single-tooth treatment to comprehensive diagnosis and treatment planning. This is a huge subject with multi-disciplinary elements, she said, and it’s easy to get lost in the clinical details and techniques. Even so, it’s a subject that’s critical for dentists to understand. She’s happy to pass on what she’s learned over the years, whether it’s via her book, educational courses or the study club format.
“It’s massively complicated,” she said. “You have to break it down into a straightforward, systematic process that young dentists can learn. And it never gets boring because there’s always more to do. I’m always thinking about how I can explain in a simple way what are very complicated, sound decisions we need to make.”