Does Your Dentist Already Know Everything?

Have you ever asked your dentist how much Continuing Education s/he takes per year?  OK, maybe a different question should have been first – do you know that every state in the US requires a dentist to take a minimum number of hours of Continuing Education (CE) to keep their license in good standing, but that for most states, it’s only about 15 hours per year?

What do you think about that – is it enough, too much, not enough for modern dentists to stay up-to-date on current technology, materials, and techniques?

Modern Dentistry is Hi-Tech and Moving Fast

If you look at the world around you, it’s impossible to miss how fast technology is moving ahead.  The cell phone in your pocket has way more computing power than the world’s first super-computer; your laptop and desktop computers can do things faster and easier than we ever dreamed; even your digital camera can now upload photos to Facebook and Twitter, save information to the Cloud, etc.

In dentistry, technology is advancing just as quickly:

  1. 3D x-ray machines called cone-beams now create 3-dimensional images of your entire skull in a minute or less, with minimal radiation;
  2. CAD/CAM machines make all-porcelain crowns and even bridges in a single visit;
  3. Combining the 3D x-ray and CAD/CAM allows us to create precise surgical guides to put in dental implants EXACTLY in the right place for ideal results, as well as plan the final restorations in advance.
  4. Digital photography and simulations allow us to show you how your smile could look with porcelain veneers or teeth whitening;
  5. Some lasers treat gum disease comfortably and effectively; other lasers can actually shape teeth for fillings or crowns nearly as fast as drills, but with no numbing required and virtually no noise.
  6. Modern plastics make Invisalign an excellent alternative to braces by moving teeth gently and safely.

And there’s more beyond that!

Becoming a Dentist is Just the Beginning

At the time I started dental school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry way back in 1994, I also started studying the martial art Tae Kwon Do.  Early on, as part of our training, we attended a “Beach Camp,” which was a brutal 4 days of intense workouts and daily discussions.  And during one of those discussions, I will never forget the words of a guy who had just earned his 1st-degree black belt (1st Dan):

When I earned my 1st Dan, I realized that it didn’t really mean that I had mastered Tae Kwon Do; rather I realized that getting the black belt meant that I had finally mastered the BASICS enough to begin to learn the real “Art” of Martial Arts. 

After practicing dentistry full-time since 1998, I have learned the truth of his statement – becoming a dentist didn’t mean I had “mastered” dentistry; rather it meant that I had finally learned enough to begin learning the “Art” of practicing dentistry, and after graduating to become a dentist, it was up to me to keep that going.

How Much Learning is Enough?

This is a question every dentist ends up answering for him or herself, of course, and the answer depends a lot on how dedicated to being the best that dentist is.  And how many different procedures does your dentist do?  If a dentist only chooses to do the basics, like fillings, crowns, bridges, teeth whitening…..well, it doesn’t take nearly as much CE to stay current on that.

But what if your dentist does procedures like dental implant surgeries, uses lasers, microscopes, CAD/CAM, and more?  How much CE does it take to stay up-to-date with  all of those things?

A Dedication to Excellence and Commitment to Time

Here’s where I’m going to give you my own personal answers; please bear in mind that I am NOT trying to say this is what every dentist should be doing.  Heck, I know some dentists who do a lot more CE than I do!  And some dentists who’ve been practicing much longer than I have, who’ve already mastered procedures far beyond what I have, may not need as much.

In 2012, I personally took over 260 hours of clinical Continuing Education.  That means that every one of those hours was directly related to how to care for patients; none of it had anything to do with the business of dentistry or how to run a practice efficiently, nothing like that.  Pure patient care.

Now for me, I don’t plan on doing quite so much in 2013 and beyond – the 260+ hours in 2012 (almost all on weekends), brought me very close to burning out.  Not enough time with my family, not enough time to rest, so that was too much.  But I plan on taking at least 50-100 hours of Continuing Education each year.  Lasers – Microscopes – CAD/CAM – Braces – Cosmetic Dentistry…..10-20 hours per year on each subject easily adds up to that much, but is a still-reasonable time to manage.

So What Do You Think Is Reasonable?  How much do you want your dentist to keep learning?  Tell me what you think in the Comments below, or if you’d be so kind to give us a +1 on Google+, a Like on Facebook, a Tweet on Twitter, Pin us on Pinterest, or whatever your social media of choice may be.  🙂

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