Those who set afoot on the career path to work in the dental fields generally know what licenses and certifications stand between them and their goal of practicing dentistry. Hours of undergraduate studies, dental school and internship ensure no one embarks on the lengthy venture without a healthy dose of regulatory understanding.
Still, for those starting or already running a private practice, knowing career advancement credentials for other positions could help in terms of staffing, employee advancement and bolstering the prestige of an operation.
Likewise, for those working in a specialized position at a dental practice, licensing and certification can lead to more money, greater opportunities and promotion.
In the United States, all practicing Dentists must be licensed, which is controlled by individual states, pursuant to their state boards of dentistry. Although the specific requirements vary per state, all states have basic requirements for education and examinations. First, a student must graduate from an American Dental Association accredited dental school with a DDS or DMD degree. Next, the prospective Dentist must pass the written portions of the National Board Dental Examination. Most states also require a clinical examination. In addition to these education and examination requirements, states may impose additional requirements, such as minimum age, proof of insurance, and background checks. The American Association of Dental Boards maintains a listing of and links to each state dental board.
In addition to licensure requirements, dental professionals can enhance their professional training through additional Board certifications. General Dentists can be certified by the American Board of General Dentistry through post-doctoral education programs and examinations. Dentists can also complete post-graduate work in specialty fields such as orthodontics or pediatric dentistry, and then take exams to become board certified in that specialty.
In order to acquire certification in this field, the candidate first must attend and graduate from a dental hygiene school. The institute should be approved by the Commission on Accreditation of the American Dental Association (ADA). In many cases, dental hygiene programs grant an associate degree. However, some specialty schools also offer a certificate, a bachelor's degree, or a master's degree. In order for a professional to practice in a private office, they usually must obtain at least an associate degree or certificate in dental hygiene. The professional often must possess a bachelor's or master's degree to research, teach, or work in clinical practice or in public or school health programs.
On graduating from dental hygiene school, the candidate is required to pass the written National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and a clinical licensing exam for the state in which they wish to practice. For the most part, dental hygienists must renew their license annually.
For dental assistants not all states require licensure or registration of dental assistants. However those that do usually provide a written or practical exam. Most in this profession learn through on-the-job training programs. While the duties of the position are highly regulated in most areas, some states let the dental assistant carry out any task delegated to them by the dentist.
Certification for Dental Assistants, sometimes called "Registered Dental Assistants," can be earned through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), which offers exams and certifications for Certified Dental Assistants (CDA), Certified Orthodontic Assistants (COA), and Certified Preventive Dental Assistants (CPDA). The DANB Website has links to all State Boards of Dental Examiners and specific state requirements.
Most dentists are well acquainted with the details surrounding board certification and re-certification for their particular specialties. That said, every discipline in these professions requires meeting certain continuing education requirements, which vary from state to state and discipline to discipline. Most states require renewal of dental licenses every two years, and a requisite amount of continuing education credits each renewal period. Practitioners may take advantage of credit-earning activities through their specific professional organizations, and some of the best opportunities are listed here.
JADA's online continuing education program designates four articles in each issue to serve as vehicles for continuing education credits. Candidates can earn up to two credits each month by reading one or more of the written pieces, and then answering related questions through online test forms. This opportunity is in partnership with the University of Colorado School of Dentistry and the American Dental Association both ADA -CERP recognized providers and accepted by the Academy of General Dentistry.
The American Dental Association provides a wide range of continuing education opportunities for general dentists and specialists. Through extensive resources such as online courses and a database of recommended CE providers, as well as other opportunities by which to earn CE credits such as authoring a course or attending the ADA annual meeting, professionals in the field can complete and earn CE credits as needed. These tools also represent a great way to stay current on industry-related litigation, licensing issues, laws, new technology and best practices.
AGD offers a comprehensive directory of continuing education courses and locations. It also presents self-instruction programs through its bimonthly journal, General Dentistry. Free online certified CE programs are offered through a partnership with Proctor and Gamble/Crest. Practitioners can also earn CE credit by attending the AGD Annual Meeting and Exhibits.
The AAO also provides continuing education courses and credit opportunities for its members. CE credits can be earned through distance learning, webinars, attendance at association meetings and seminars, and presentation of white papers.
Dental Office Professionals
Dental Hygienists, assistants and other dental office professionals often seek continuing education for career advancement or to satisfy state licensure and renewal requirements. In addition to dental programs at local universities, continuing education programs can also be found through dental trade associations.
The ADAA provides continuing education for dental assistants with a comprehensive catalog of courses. Courses are available at roundtables, online, or by a home study workbook, with tests graded by the ADAA. All courses are approved by the Dental Assisting National Board and state dental boards for certification and registration renewals.
The ADHA partners with state and local hygienist organizations to provide continuing education. Webinars and online courses are also offered, and the Website has a chart listing the CE requirements for each state.
Through its "Virtual Study Club," this industry group provides dental office managers with continuing education and certification opportunities. The online eight-week courses include conference call meetings with other office managers and a facilitator so that managers of practices can exchange ideas and learn from each other.