It takes eight years of full-time education to become a dentist: four years of undergraduate work and four years of graduate school, plus written and clinical examinations. Once your dentist has completed those requirements, he’s done, right? Not if he’s Dr. Hill. In fact, since graduating from dental school, Dr. Hill has voluntarily logged an additional 1,000 hours of continuing dental training - and that’s not including the time he spent as an instructor, teaching other dentists how to craft beautiful smiles just like he does with his patients every day.
So, how important is continuing education for a dentist? Is it required? Here in Texas, the State Board of Dental Examiners requires each dentist to complete 12 hours of continuing education per year. By that math, unless Dr. Hill has been practicing dentistry for over 83 years (he hasn’t!), he has far exceeded the state’s minimum requirement. But why receive all that extra training if you don’t actually need to?
Just like in any other technology field, there isn’t a year that goes by that there isn’t new dentistry equipment released into the marketplace. From 360-degree x-ray machines to water lasers, dental technology is constantly changing for the better. If your dentist adapts any of this new technology to his practice, he’ll need to be trained to use that equipment to get you the best possible result.
While there may not be many new types of issues your dentist treats, there are always new ways to treat old problems. From different filling materials to less invasive surgical methods, researchers are always working to find ways to make oral health more comfortable and more efficient for patients and doctors alike.
If you’ve ever watched cable news, you’ve probably seen more than your fair share of medication commercials. Well, all of those new medical innovations require a lot of training on your doctor or dentist’s part. After all, you want to make sure the person prescribing that antibiotic knows what types of bacteria it works best to fight, and what kinds of medications it could have dangerous interactions with.
Practice Makes Perfect
They say once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. While that’s not universally true, bike riding is a skill that, once learned, has a pretty high retention rate. Unfortunately, not everything in life is so easy. Dentistry, for one, is full of skills that could be categorized as "if you don’t use them, you can lose them." So, for example, if your dentist doesn’t perform a lot of root canals, he may feel the need to take some refresher courses to "brush up" (see what we did there?) on his surgical skills, so that even if it’s been a few months since his last procedure he’ll be able to perform his next procedure with absolute confidence.
Even if your dentist does perform a procedure on a daily basis, there is always room for improvement. Continuing education allows your dentist to learn from other dentists, to see how they do the same procedures differently - and to see if there’s anything new that can be adapted to your dentist’s skill set to make his work more efficient. Broadening his knowledge base on a particular procedure can also help in case he is faced with a complex case that may require more advanced techniques, such as a very hard-to-reach cavity.
Ultimately, beyond the state requirement, it is up to your dentist to decide how much or how little continuing education he receives. But ask yourself this: When was the last time you wished your dentist knew less about how to care for your teeth?
For Dr. Hill, continuing to learn about new techniques and innovations in dentistry is just as important as the first four years of dental school.