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At What Stage of Dental Continuing Education (CE) Requirements Are You?

February 4, 2020
by Dr. David Wolle


Dental professionals have different dental CE needs. What stage are you at?

One of the best lines I heard from one of my professors in dental school was as I was nearing the end of my dental schooling. He said, “We did not teach you how to be dentists. We gave you the tools to figure it out and, in a few years, you’ll be really good dentists.” At the time, I didn’t get it. Sometime between then and now (twenty+ years later), I got it.

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I think any experienced dentist would agree that it takes a few years, from when you finish dental school, to reach the point where you are comfortable with your skills, and you know what you’re good at and which parts of dentistry you could use some improvement on. Not only that, but it takes some time, for most of us, to figure out what parts of dentistry interest you and you want to learn more about, and which parts of dentistry you want to stay away from.

During these different stages in your career, your dental continuing education needs and desires will change. I have summarized here the different stages of dental CE needs, as I and my many dentist friends experienced over the last twenty years. In discussing these ideas with dental professionals of all types, as well as with professionals not in dentistry, the path seems similar for all and you can substitute almost any type of professional into these stages. Below I discuss the stages for a general dentist.

Stage I: Student
While you are a dental student, you are still relying on your school to provide most, if not all of your education. I don’t think many of us (I didn’t) ventured outside of our schooling for actual education. We did attend local conferences to get a feel for the world of dentistry, and we may have even attended a lecture or two at the conferences, but, as we were still not quite ready for real-world dentistry, the courses offered didn’t really apply to us or sink in. The only exceptions were a few of my colleagues who knew they wanted to open their own offices right out of school and attended some lectures geared towards opening an office. In today’s world, this seems to occur less and less.


Main concentration: getting to know dentistry.


Stage II: New Dentist (Years 1-3)
In the first few years out of school, most of us are a little apprehensive regarding all of our skills. We are eager to learn more about the parts of dentistry that excite us, or, to improve our knowledge of topics and/or skills that our schooling lacked the in-depth training we feel we need for the real world. You might also be starting to think about opening your own office. Day-to-day experiences in the office also help guide your CE needs during this stage as you start to see what cases you find challenging or cases that you come across that you wished you could deal with better, so you search out courses that can help you conquer these issues.


Main concentration: Getting your skills and knowledge up to a level that you are comfortable with.


Stage III: Almost there (Years 4-8)
Somewhere during these years, you finally begin to realize that you can handle almost any case that walks in the door. During these years, you are most likely trying to become the ‘expert’ that you want to be in certain fields of dentistry (i.e. restorative, implants, ortho, etc.) and you are starting to shy away from other parts of dentistry that interest you less. You’ve probably already taken some introductory longer-term courses on topics that interest you and now you are looking to expand on that knowledge and you are looking for the skills and knowledge required to tackle even more challenging cases.


Main concentration: Becoming an ‘expert’.


Stage IV: Experienced Dentist (Years 9-20)
I’m guessing that many dentists in Stage III might not agree that I called Stage IV dentists experienced, but I promise you… wait until you reach this stage and you’ll almost for sure look back and agree with me. During this stage, you are continuing to increase your knowledge base on those aspects of dentistry that interest you. For many of you, general dentistry is becoming a little repetitive and you really enjoy doing those cases that are a little out of the ordinary. You might also start to think that those parts of dentistry that you wrote off years ago might actually make your day more interesting and so you might start to investigate courses on topics that you’ve ignored for a decade or more. Vacation type courses (i.e. on a cruise or at a golf or ski resort) might be more appealing at this stage as a way to combine together a little personal fun, a bit of learning and a tax write off.


Main concentration: Expanding your knowledge base.


Stage V: Established Dentist (Years 21-retirement)
Obviously, many dentists are already well-established during stage IV. What I mean here is that many of us are beginning to be recognized by our peers as exceptional dentists (either through dental organizations or simply phone calls from colleagues asking questions). Or, many of us have simply found our comfort zones and plod along each day within them. Our CE requirements, for many of us, become more of a chore and are simply completed to fulfil our licensing requirements. The lucky ones are still passionate about dentistry and are looking to still gain skills, but the reality is that most of us are content where we are in terms of our dental skills and knowledge. New outside business and personal endeavours really start to interest us.


Main concentration: fulfilling licensure requirements and out of the box CE Events.


Stage VI: Retirement
I’m looking forward to this stage. And it’s coming up more and more during discussions with my peers who are around my age. I don’t have a lot of friends who have reached this stage yet, but I can guess what might happen. I’m thinking that many of us will change our dental licenses to ‘non-practicing’ to lower annual licensing costs. I’m also guessing that most of us won’t completely give up our licenses as 1) we think we might still, maybe, need it, and 2) we can maybe use CE events as a tax-deductible way to take a vacation here and there. I guess it would really depend on where you live and what the regulations are.


Main concentration: Whatever!


As a general dentist, I have sometimes struggled, through all these stages, to find a CE event that really met my needs. Whether it was the topic, the dates, the locations, etc. Of course, in the end I was able to find acceptable CE Events, but every once in a while, I wished I could find CE events that were exactly what I was looking for, rather than ‘close enough’.


About the Author

Dr. David Wolle created DavesDentalCE.com to help Dental Professionals find their next Dental CE Event. He has been a dentist since 1996. He lives in Toronto and is an instructor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry and also practices in Manitoba. Dr. Wolle can be reached at Dave@DavesDentalCE.com.


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1 Comment » for At What Stage of Dental Continuing Education (CE) Requirements Are You?
  1. Anne Prince says:

    Great article
    Great journey

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