Never stop learning, ever! Build on the educational foundation of dental hygiene school

Sept. 28, 2015
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing a hygienist say "but that's not what I learned in school!" Now don't get me wrong, hygiene school provides us with a terrific foundation.

BY Kara Vavrosky, RDH

One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing a hygienist say "but that's not what I learned in school!" Now don't get me wrong, hygiene school provides us with a terrific foundation. But it's just that-a foundation, one you need to build upon. Just because you have graduated and passed your boards doesn't mean you're done learning. In fact, your learning has just begun.

Dentistry is an ever-changing profession. We should all be practicing with evidence-based protocols, but those protocols change as new research emerges. For example, we no longer "selective polish" but instead use "essential selective polishing" techniques. In 2015, the premed protocol has also changed. Are you aware of what these changes are?

As research progresses, it's our duty as hygienists to keep abreast of these changes. It's not only imperative for personal growth, but also for quality patient care and growth of the dental industry as a whole. It can be detrimental to patients if dental professionals use outdated protocol.


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There are many ways to stay on top of the latest research and protocols, the most obvious being continuing education, which we are required to take to keep our licenses current. It's important to approach CE with an attitude of more than just getting them done. Specifically look for topics that include changes in protocol and topics that your patients are asking about.

Continuing education is required for a reason-it's intended to ensure we use the most current techniques and protocols. Take advantage of this opportunity for growth.

Beyond taking CE courses, attend dental conferences in your area. Not only are CE courses usually offered as a part of the conference, companies are there to show off their latest products and technology. You will learn what's available for better patient care and what can help prolong your career. Handpieces have become more ergonomically friendly, and sharpen-free instruments make it easier on your hands.

Outside of CE courses and conferences, your learning can continue by having companies come in for lunch-and-learns at your office. Attend your local component meetings and attend the classes and study groups they provide.

Make it a habit to read dental hygiene-related articles and dental journals. And don't forget about our friend Google. While you need to make sure what you're reading online is credible, there's a wealth of information to be found. Be a self-starter when it comes to your own learning and you will reap the benefits of having greater knowledge.

Not only is continually learning beneficial in staying up to date on protocols, it will also make you more credible in your patients' eyes. It can be quite embarrassing if a patient asks your opinion on a fad such as oil pulling and you can't give a valid answer back. It's also important to be able to credibly dispel a lot of myths floating around online, like root canals and radiographs causing cancer, or whatever the latest attack on fluoride is. The links between oral health and overall health are also great to share with patients.

I know it can sometimes feel like a chore when it comes to learning all the latest information out there, but it doesn't have to be. You're reading this article right now, so you've already demonstrated you have an interest in furthering your knowledge. Continue doing this. Share articles with your coworkers and friends when you find something interesting.

Spread this knowledge around. I encourage you to make learning a lifelong habit. Not only will it help improve patient care, it also will show both your patients and doctor the true value you bring. RDH

Kara Vavrosky, RDH, runs the popular Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, and is also the founder of, a question and answer platform for dental hygienists. Kara serves on the Clinical Advisory Board of GoodMouth, a toothbrush subscription service, and the Advisory Board of Support Clean Dentistry, an initiative to raise awareness of cleanliness in the dental office. Kara currently works for a one-doctor, family-oriented practice in Portland, Oregon.