In the 1980s, it was said by an inventor, R. Buckminster Fuller, that human knowledge had been doubling every century. As of the year 2020, researchers have estimated that our knowledge is now doubling at a rate of once every 12 hours. With an exponential increase in knowledge over a 40-year period, and with a constant rise in population, it is quite obvious that the amount of information will only increase and the demand for it will be necessary to succeed.
So, how does this apply to our wonderful profession of dentistry? If the world’s knowledge is increasing, how does that demand on information affect us as dentists?
As a middle school dropout, I have always found learning to be difficult and extremely time consuming. By the time I completed my general education diploma at age 18, my test scores showed a fourth grade reading level and a math score too low and embarrassing to list here. It took so much work to push through these reading and learning challenges to earn my college degree with a 3.75 GPA.
Learning continued to be an uphill battle for me as I went through my second year of dental school. With 27 credit hours and 19 classes in one semester, I thought I might never reach my dream of becoming adentist. If the average student needed to spend three hours in preparation for an exam, I had to spend 30. It was during my third year of dental school that I realized that for me to survive in an ever-increasing world of continuous information, I must step up my game to increase my knowledge to serve my patients optimally. I began taking continuing education courses in addition to the dental school curriculum course load. After reaching 100 hours by my fourth year, I had become addicted to learning and improving my skills because, as the old saying from Socrates goes, “the more I learn, the less I realize I know.”
Since graduating, I often get asked by dental colleagues how many continuing education hours we need when renewing our license. Although that answer will vary by state, here in Missouri we need 50 CE credits every renewal period. The ADA’s Dental Licensure Dashboard offers a map dedicated to continuing education and provides a high-level overview and details about required CE.
Our knowledge has a direct impact on our patients and the care we provide. In the small amount of time practicing, I have ran across many patients who have received suboptimal care. It is not my job to judge clinicians or their work. We all make mistakes and there is a reason why we call this the “practice” of dentistry.
However, as I continue to learn and constantly ask questions, I have met dental veterans who do not know about new practices that can be vital to serving our patients with optimal care. Our patients are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on treatment to improve their oral health. If we don’t grow our knowledge, the public may lose faith in us as their providers.
Although our state continuing education requirements are set, we should aim to surpass them by the time license renewal hits. We need to set high standards for ourselves to continue serving our patients better. They will place greater trust in us, and we will feel better about our work. Take it from a dropout… learning is hard and time consuming! With three kids, church responsibilities, and an increasing amount of clinical “to-dos” that are never-ending,
it’s difficult to find the time and energy to do more. But after my time being submerged in continuing education and having completed an additional year in a general practice residency, I have realized that my work has improved and that I have more tools in my tool belt as a clinician. It’s time to stand up and aim higher so that we can leave this profession a little bit better than it was when we stepped into it.
Editor’s note: The Association advocates lifelong learning to enhance and update the knowledge base of dentists, to stimulate ongoing professional growth and development and to improve professional skills. Dentists have a responsibility to pursue lifelong learning throughout their professional careers. The Association is committed to serving as a supportive resource to facilitate the lifelong learning process and to assist members in identifying appropriate sources and mechanisms for meeting this responsibility for the benefit of the public and the profession. For information on ADA continuing education offerings, visit ADA.org/education/continuing-education. For information on CE courses offered by ADA CERP-recognized providers, visit the Commission for Continuing Education Provider Recognition website.