How Much Continuing Education Does A Dental Hygienist Need?

Completing your dental hygienist degree, getting a license and your first job are big accomplishments.  However, starting a career as a dental hygienist isn’t the end of your education – it’s just the beginning. You’ll also need to keep learning and growing throughout your career. How much continuing education do you need as a dental hygienist?  Depending on where you practice, you’ll be expected to get between 8 and 20 hours of continuing education (CE) every year. Is CE a chore and a burden for you? It doesn’t have to be.  Choosing the right form and content for CE can make you a better hygienist and a great asset to your team.

Why do state licensing boards require CE?

When you’re busy with work and life, CE can seem like a hassle, but states have a good reason for requiring working hygienists to keep up with their education. Continuing education requirements ensure that hygienists:

  • Retain essential medical skills like first aid, CPR, and infection control
  • Learn about new advances in the science and technology underlying their work
  • Stay up-to-date on new procedures and techniques that improve patient lives
  • Understand their role in a dental practice so that they can contribute to practice growth
  • Have the tools they need to connect with their teammates and create an excellent patient experience
  • Keep growing and learning throughout their lives
  • Stay engaged with their jobs and with the field as a whole so that they don’t burn out

In fact, if they approach CE as an opportunity instead of a chore, many hygienists enjoy meeting their CE requirements and even go above and beyond the state minimum.  When you work hard to become an expert at your job, you love your job.  CE is an important part of staying engaged in and excited about your field.

What sort of classes qualify for CE?

Because hygienists are licensed at the state level, the requirements for the number and type of CE classes vary from state to state. The American Dental Hygienist Association maintains an up-to-date list of state requirements on their site.  However, the association warns that hygienists should also check with state licensing boards for the most current information.

This is especially important now because many states have changed their guidelines for hygienist CE in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Some states are requiring less CE while others are allowing for more units to be completed through online courses and webinars.   Check your state’s guidelines to see what the current requirements are. Some states have very few limits on topics or formats, others have a breakdown of which courses are required for renewing a license.

One thing to keep in mind is that most states allow a hygienist 2-3 years to complete their CE.  However, it’s better to spread your CE classes out over the entire licensing period rather than trying to cram them all in at the last minute.  When you take CE seriously, your entire practice benefits.

With so many choices, how can a hygienist choose the best CE options?

As a hygienist, you probably receive many advertisements for CE through social media, email, and even traditional mail.   The ADHA has a selection of online courses that are free for members and low-cost for non-members.  Your state professional association will also offer CE.

Most practices also offer CE for their teams at certain times during the year.   Whenever you take a CE course, document it.  Keep your continuing education documentation somewhere safe and easily accessible, and always keep hard copies of any completion and credit certificates.

If your practice owner isn’t offering CE or isn’t offering options that you find useful, talk to them! Often practice owners are short on ideas for CE so if there’s a new product or service that you think could benefit the practice, ask about taking a CE course to learn more about it.

Finally, plan your CE out ahead of time.  Think about your career.  What parts of your day are the most rewarding? How can you get continuing education that will let you specialize in those ways of helping patients?  Where are you the least confident? What courses can help you build the skills and confidence you need to really help patients improve their total health and well-being?

CE requirements are important. They help you grow and become an expert in your field.  While it’s important to meet your state minimum for licensing, it’s even more important to take your profession seriously and strive for continuous improvement so that you can really thrive in your career.

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