Big shifts in online learning for dental professionals

Sept. 17, 2020
There haven't been very many good things about 2020, Heather Colicchio acknowledges. But she believes that the growth in online continuing education is bringing dental professionals together, and that's a very good thing.

Dental clinical team members are required to have a certain number of professional development hours each year to maintain their licensure. This is usually restricted to a high percentage of scientific or technical courses, with few hours offered in administration or business. Before this year, many state dental boards required a majority of that learning to take place in person, in real time.

One of the things that COVID has done is impact the way states regulate continuing education (CE), as well as the way learning partners provide resources to dental professionals. In this case, it’s the entire dental team, including office managers. This is because we all have an immense amount of information we need to learn for 2020 and there is only one way to get that information: the internet.

A lot of state dental boards have either allowed for exemptions or made changes to their CE protocols. What once might have required a minimum of 12 or 24 hours of real-time, onsite learning has turned into allowing for livestream instruction taking the place of annual conferences and lecture halls. Hundreds of dentists are flocking to the same webinar or Zoom call to not just earn continuing education hours, but to connect with and ask questions of industry leaders.

Live-streamed CE has made it easier than ever for all members of the dental team to get on the same page. From infection control and patient screening to changes in PPE fees or emergency processes, we’re all—finally—getting the same information from the same sources.

Hopefully, online CE for the clinical team is here to stay. That’s not to say that it will replace conferences, but it adds a new angle to staying abreast of industry news, policies, and revolutionary changes in times like these.

To take it a step further, the online connectivity that’s happened during 2020 has also brought about a big push in teledentistry and virtual dental appointments. These services will not replace traditional dental visits, but they make it easier for patients to access immediate information and professional insight when an in-person meeting isn’t possible.

The shift to teledentistry alone has been strong enough that insurance carriers started allowing synchronous and asynchronous virtual appointments, even if it’s for a service that was not covered in the past. As a result, offices were able provide palliative care and even services such as orthodontic consultations through secure mobile devices. Everything happened so abruptly that it led to some of the biggest shifts we’ve ever seen in the dental industry.

Even though most of our offices are open again, online learning can still bring us together. Plan a virtual lunch and learn onsite or block an afternoon for everyone to log in while you’re at the office.

When everyone trains together, it doesn’t just inform the entire staff, it also creates a sense of unity. Everyone hears and processes the same information, so group learning is great if you still have some uneasy staff members who are unsure about the state of dentistry these days.

Plus, online learning (live courses, that is) allows us to interact with the presenters by asking questions, hearing the answers in real time, and even taking advantage of product samples shipped to us at a later date. Some presenters offer door prizes. There wasn’t much of this going on pre-COVID.

Even though some states may wind up moving back to mostly in-person CE, streaming dental seminars is likely here to stay. One of the best parts is that plenty of them are free. Dental office managers can arrange for everyone to take the same course together. It’s a win-win for you as a team leader and for the staff members who have clinical licenses.

 Websites such as are great for:

• Finding in-person or live webinars
• Selecting courses on specific topics
• Finding low-price or free continuing education
• Keeping track of annual license requirements
• Live learning in any location

You can even input your courses from other CE providers so that everything is compiled in an easy-to-find location. (To be clear, AADOM is not being compensated for endorsing them. They’re just a great resource!)

Although there have been plenty of less-than-ideal situations in 2020, we should also look back and see the good that has come from the closures. You might find that we and our patients now have access to more resources than we did in the past, because it forced the entire industry to think outside the box. So, as we enter into the final months of 2020, take advantage of those changes and use them to benefit your practice. We didn’t have them until now.

AADOM is proud to host the AADOM fall semester, two months of online learning for dentists and dental business team leaders. 

Heather Colicchio is the founder and president of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM). AADOM is the largest professional organization in the nation for dental business team members. Colicchio is passionate about small business and entrepreneurship. She enjoys collaboration and loves working in the dental industry.