Dentist and Dental Hygienist Continuing Education

Information Last Verified: July 20, 2021 by Jordan Fabel

Most states require dental continuing education for any dentist or dental hygienist who wants to renew their license. Unless these continuing education courses are successfully completed, the state will not renew the license. And each state with this requirement determines for itself how many hours are needed. But no matter the state, a dentist or dental hygienist must meet the continuing education requirements to maintain their license.

How Many Continuing Education Credits Does a Dentist Need?

A dentist needs the number of hours specified by the state in which they’re licensed. The state also determines if any specific topics are needed.

Here are some examples of how different states have different continuing education requirements for a dentist.

– A dentist in Alabama needs 20 hours of yearly continuing education courses. Some of those 20 hours must come from CPR training. And some of the 20 hours must also include courses on infectious disease control.

– A dentist in Arizona needs 72 hours of continuing education every 3 years. Out of those 72 hours, at least 3 hours must come from a course on chemical dependency. An additional 3 hours must come from a course on infectious disease control or infectious diseases. CPR, PALS, and ACLS must also account for 3 hours towards the 72 hours total. Another 3 hours must come from a course in dental jurisprudence.

– A dentist in California needs 50 hours of continuing education every 2 years. At least 2 hours must come from an infection control course. A course on the California Dental Practice Act must account for at least 4 hours. And up to 4 hours can come from a course on basic life support.

Some states make a distinction between dentists that work exclusively with children and those that work with adults. For example, Iowa requires 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

A dentist who treats children must have 2 hours of training to identify and report child abuse. A dentist who treats adults must have 2 hours of training in how to identify and report adult abuse. A dentist who treats children and adults must have 2 hours of training in each subject.

How Many Continuing Education Credits Does a Dental Hygienist Need?

A dental hygienist needs few continuing education hours when compared to a dentist. But, like a dentist, a dental hygienist must have the number of hours specified by the state in which they’re licensed.

For example, a dental hygienist in California needs 25 hours of continuing education every two years. But a dentist needs 50 hours of continuing education every 2 years. It’s important to know the different requirements, so you don’t take the wrong number of hours.

Connecticut is another example. A dental hygienist in Connecticut needs 16 hours of continuing education. But a dentist in that state needs 25 hours of continuing education.

As for the courses, those sometimes overlap between a dentist and a dental hygienist.

Take California, for example. A dental hygienist and a dentist in California both need 2 hours of California Infection Control. Both also need 2 hours of the California Dental Practice Act and CPR every two years.

Continuing Education Providers

A dentist or a dental hygienist has several options when it comes to choosing a continuing education provider. However, all course providers must have the approval of the local organization that oversees the dental profession.

For example, the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama must approve course providers for Alabama dentists and dental hygienists. And in California, the Dental Board of California must give their approval for course providers. Each state has a similar dental board or organization for approving these providers.

Most courses are taught locally in schools, universities, and other learning institutions. But online learning is an option as well. Any courses you take online must also come from approved course providers.

Dentalcare.com is an online provider of dental continuing education courses. The website is run by Crest and Oral-B and currently has 150 free continuing education courses.

The American Dental Association officially recognizes the site as a continuing education course provider for the dental industry. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean every state will accept hours earned from the website. Check with your state before enrolling in any courses to ensure you’ll receive credit for your work.

Dentalcare.com was created to make it easy for any dentist or dental hygienist to get their continuing education hours. The courses are peer-reviewed and evidence-based. Oral health professionals taking these courses are sure to receive the most recent and accurate information.

Benefits of Dentalcare.com include:

Examples of Courses

The course catalog provides several details about each course. Most importantly, it lists the course name and hours it provides.

For example, A Clinician’s Guide to Clinical Endodontics provides 2 continuing education hours. And a Guide to Clinical Differential Diagnosis of Oral Mucosal Lesions provides 4 continuing education hours. The courses are listed this way, so anyone can easily find courses that fulfill the number of hours needed.

Be aware that some states accept hours earned from the Dentalcare website, but they may also have stipulations attached.

For example, the Iowa Dental Board accepts most hours earned from the Dentalcare website. However, courses on government regulations, insurance, dental business practices, personal development, community service, and personal management are not eligible for credit hours.

That means if you’re licensed in Iowa, taking these classes won’t count at all towards the continuing education requirements. You can take the classes, but you won’t receive official credit for the hours.

The Benefits of Continuing Education

Learning is a lifelong journey. No matter the career you’ve chosen, there’s always something new to learn. That’s why most states require continuing education for dental professionals.

The state won’t renew your license until you’ve completed the required number of course hours. Considering that, the biggest benefit of taking the courses is that your license is renewed. However, there are additional benefits.

1. You learn what’s new in the dental industry. New methods, new tools, and new ideas in oral healthcare are introduced all the time. And if you’re not exposed to this information, you risk falling behind. When most people seek dental care, they want access to the latest and the best techniques. If you’re uninformed about what’s possible, you can’t provide your patients with the best dental care. And this will possibly hurt your career and reputation.

2. You can potentially increase your salary. The knowledge you gain from continuing education courses can lead to a raise at your current job. Your current employer might see you as more of an expert, deserving of a raise. The courses might also help you qualify for a new job with better pay. Generally, more training translates into opportunities for better pay.

The Role of a Dentist and a Dental Hygienist

The continuing education requirements for a dentist and dental hygienist aren’t the same. This is because there’s a difference between the services provided by a dentist and a dental hygienist.

Dentist

A dentist is a doctor who specializes in oral health. Although most people don’t realize it, an extremely high level of education and clinical training must earn a dental degree. Dental schools have high academic standards, just like any other medical school.

A dental student must take complex biomedical science courses. Anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, and immunology are examples of the kinds of courses a dentist has to master. It’s certainly more detailed than most people realize.

Clinical coursework is also a part of becoming a dentist. Students use this time to learn how to diagnose and treat oral diseases.

It can take up to 8 years or longer for a dental student to complete their formal education and training. And after formal education and training is complete, it’s necessary to pass a state exam and complete additional requirements before becoming a licensed dentist.

The responsibilities of a dentist include:

A dentist is responsible for the safety and well-being of their patients. The most simple procedure, such as tooth extraction or administering anesthetics, carry a high risk of potentially deadly complications. Infection, nerve damage, and even death can result when a dental procedure goes wrong.

Dental Hygienist

A dental hygienist examines a patient’s teeth and gums for signs of oral disease. The hygienist also provides preventive oral care, such as teeth cleaning and dental education.

A dental hygienist must have a license to work in the profession. But the educational requirements differ from those of a dentist. An associate’s degree is sufficient for earning a license as a dental hygienist.

After earning a degree, a dental hygienist student must attend an accredited dental hygiene program. An accredited program must provide general dental education courses, dental hygiene, biomedical sciences, and dental sciences.

Biomedical sciences include topics such as anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology. Dental sciences include oral embryology, radiography, pain management, and dental materials.

Dental hygiene covers a wide range of topics. Counseling patients about oral health and preventative methods is a dental hygiene topic. Other subjects in this area of study include medical and dental emergencies, infection and hazard control, and providing special needs patients services.

It generally takes two to four years to become a dental hygienist. Following formal education and training, a dental hygienist will need a license to work within the industry.

A dentist and a dental hygienist both have specialized training in the dental field and play an important role. But a dentist is trained to provide extensive procedures, such as tooth extractions and oral surgery.

On the other hand, a dental hygienist isn’t trained to perform surgeries and tooth extractions. Instead, a dental hygienist is trained to provide basic dental care and routine teeth cleaning.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story takes more time. Coming soon!