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Continuing education online

July 1, 2007
Dr. Dalin: From past columns, I think readers of Dental Economics® are aware of my passion for the Internet.

by Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

Dr. Dalin: From past columns, I think readers of Dental Economics® are aware of my passion for the Internet. As a profession, dentists are quite involved with this medium. We have discussion groups, such as the Internet Dental Forum and ACEsthetics. We have community bulletin boards. We have dental blogs such as, and dental podcasts such as and Today, let’s talk with Dr. Linda Niessen, vice president and chief clinical officer of DENTSPLY International, about how the Internet provides new opportunities for continuing education. What role will the Internet have in the way dentists receive continuing education?

Dr. Linda Niessen
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Dr. Niessen: The Internet will continue to play a growing role in the future. The current generation of dental students can be described as “digital natives.” They have grown up with the Internet. By comparison, the students’ teachers are digital “immigrants.” They have migrated to the technology during their adult lives. In fact, today’s teens are known as “screenagers.” They tend to sit in the same room and text each other before they verbally communicate.

The Internet enables both the accessing and sharing of information. In effect, the Internet has created new learning communities among dental professionals. Today, the Internet is a great forum to introduce new dental topics and technologies. It can provide on-demand learning in a comfortable environment. Once they have been introduced to the technology, dental professionals then can decide if they want to learn more and attend a traditional “in-person” lecture or a hands-on program.

Dr. Dalin: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of Web-based CE?

Dr. Niessen: The Internet provides convenient, on-demand, and affordable CE. This can be live and interactive with an instructor, or taped and downloadable. Web-based CE has the potential to make geographic boundaries disappear. For example, the American Association of Women Dentists offers a monthly First Wednesday Webcast that is sponsored by DENTSPLY International. This Webcast provides one hour of CE. The speaker presents a topic for about 45 minutes. Then the audience can ask the speaker questions. For those who cannot attend, the program is recorded. Dental professionals can access the program at a later date. Participants who have “attended” this program have logged on from every continent except Antarctica!

One of the disadvantages is that the interaction with a speaker on a Webcast is limited. In addition, since the speaker does not see the audience, he or she does not have an opportunity to engage on a visual, personal level with the audience. For some, the technology can be a barrier (e.g., this includes variables such as programming, speed of Internet connectivity, PC configurations, and users’ apprehension). My recommendation for first-time Webcasters, especially if they are digital “immigrants,” is to invite their children to log on with them in case they need technical assistance!

Dr. Dalin: Will Web-based CE ever replace “in person” CE?

Dr. Niessen: I do not see Web-based CE ever replacing “in person” CE. Adult pedagogy teaches that adults learn by doing. The concept of “see one, do one, teach one” certainly applies in a visual, technical profession like dentistry. When dental professionals can see a procedure being done - either in person or via video, then do one on a typodont or patient - it greatly enhances the retention of the knowledge. If you ask the student to then “teach” the procedure, the individual will retain even more of the material. Hands-on programs will remain the “gold standard” for learning, practicing and mastering new clinical procedures or techniques.

Web-based CE can serve as an enhancement to traditional in-person or hands-on CE offerings. It is also an effective instructional medium for annual courses that are required for relicensure, such as infection control or dental ethics. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great online infection control course that provides two hours of free CE (see

Dr. Dalin: How are dental manufacturers starting to use the Internet to get information to dentists?

Dr. Niessen: Dental manufacturers are using the Internet to disseminate a variety of new product and technique information. New product information, clinical research studies, and practical techniques are just the beginning of the information manufacturers are making available via the Internet. Perhaps the best aspect of the Internet is that it goes both ways. The Internet is a valuable method for dental professionals to communicate with manufacturers about their experiences with new products and techniques. It is conceivable that one day you could download the Directions for Use and the Material Safety Data Sheets for products.

CE opportunites are limitless. The Internet is a great platform to introduce new techniques and technologies to dental professionals. With the advent of podcasts and vodcasts, dental professionals will continue to learn about innovations in dentistry that are affiliated with the Internet. They can share their experiences with colleagues globally. The Internet has made the world and dentistry smaller.

Dr. Dalin: I understand that there are many levels of expertise when it comes to using computers and the Internet. What do you think is needed in order to feel “comfortable” with this medium?

Dr. Niessen: Technology is clearly getting easier to use, and no one should be intimidated by it. My first piece of advice is not to attempt to participate in a Webcast unless you have a high-speed Internet connection - either through DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable. Second, if you decide to participate in a Webcast, take time to print and read the confirmation and connection instructions. Depending on the sponsoring company, each Webcast varies slightly in the connection process (Webex and Microsoft’s Live Meeting are two of the better-known companies that offer Webcasts). Third, understand whether the audio will be provided via telephone or your computer audio system. Make sure your computer’s audio system is not on mute. Finally, the first time you participate in a Webcast, plan to log on at least 10 minutes early just in case you need to download software to participate. If this is the case, the software downloads typically are automatic for the user. If so, you just need to follow the prompts.

Dr. Dalin: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Dr. Niessen: It is truly an exciting time to be a dental professional. The new technologies and innovations that are coming to dentistry will make it more efficient and effective to accomplish the public’s oral health needs and improve oral health. The Internet provides an excellent opportunity to broaden your dental perspective. Don’t be intimidated by the Internet and the technology. Recognize that there is a vast opportunity to earn CE, and learn new techniques through Webcast programs. With the much wider dental community available through the Internet, you can become the dental professional you want to be.

Finally, on behalf of the AAWD, I would like to invite readers interested in online CE to take part in the First Wednesday Dental Study Club program. These Webcasts require only a phone and a PC with high-speed Internet connectivity. To enroll, go to


Dr. Dalin: Let’s look at a different take in putting on a continuing education course ... one for a cause. Dr. Gary Radz has done something special in Denver called Paulina’s Promise. Paulina Elizabeth Grace Radz was born with severe congenital heart disease. She had to be transferred to the Heart Institute at The Children’s Hospital in Denver. For the next 37 days, Paulina received the best medical care available. She endured seven trips to the operating room, four days on an artificial heart machine, and a list of medications. During their time with Paulina at the Heart Institute, Gary and his wife, Nora, observed not only the tremendous effort and dedication of the doctors and staff toward their daughter, but also toward dozens of other children in the unit. As they watched, listened, and talked with doctors and staff, it was apparent that - although these people were doing wonderful and tremendous work every day - they could do more. But a huge limiting factor was money. Money was necessary for equipment, staffing, more doctoral care, research and other needs. Gary and Nora made a promise to themselves and to Paulina to do whatever they could to help the hospital and the children being treated in the cardiac unit. That commitment was the beginning of Paulina’s Promise Seminar Series. Gary, please tell us more about why you chose continuing education to help fund this dream.

Dr. Radz: I wanted to do something different. I do not know how to run a golf tournament or a charity ball. One thing I do know about is dental continuing education. I have been a presenter and an attendee for literally thousands of hours of CE.

Dr. Gary Radz
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Also, I know that - as a whole - dentists are wonderful, caring, giving people. I thought that if I could create a great continuing education course at a reasonable fee and with a nationally renowned lecturer, I would have a chance to pique the interest of dentists in the region. These dentists could receive a great day of education while contributing to an important medical care and research institution.

Dr. Dalin: I know some great speakers and corporate sponsors have helped you. What impact have their contributions made?

Dr. Radz: I have been fortunate in my career to have made many good friends in the speaking community and the manufacturer-dental laboratory community. As this idea first took shape, I hoped that I could count on a few of these friends to become interested in the idea and help me get it off the ground. I have been overwhelmed with the response!

Our first program kicked off with Drs. Dennis Wells and Bill Dorfman. They packed the room! I could not have asked for better dentists to introduce our program. Last year Dr. John Cranham and Shannon Pace were our presenters. This year it will be Dr. Ron Jackson. I never even asked Ron to be on the program. Two years ago, he heard about the series, and told me he was going to participate. I have been moved with Ron’s personal interest in the success of our event and in his friendship. In 2008, my friend and mentor, Paul Homoly, will be in Denver. Paul has been a great supporter of our program from the day he heard about it. For 2009 and beyond, I have a list of great speakers who have contacted me and have asked to be considered for these programs.

These people have touched me with their willingness to participate and help Nora and me with our mission to make the Children’s Hospital Heart Institute the best national facility possible for children with heart defects. Each of these speakers has refused to accept an honorarium for his or her time and effort. As a matter of fact, I have had a difficult time convincing them to let me cover their expenses. It is special to have these wonderful friends.

Many dental manufacturers and dental laboratories also have been key partners in our success. To market and put on a continuing education program is expensive. Without the financial assistance of these companies, much money would be consumed in expenses. This would minimize the net profit for the hospital. To date, 14 companies have participated in our program; however, I would be remiss if I did not mention the special efforts the Kerr Corporation and Burkhart Dental Supply have provided. These two companies have taken a personal interest in this cause, and have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort in helping it become a success. A complete list of participating companies is on our Web site at

Dr. Dalin: How have the Heart Institute’s patients and their families benefited from this endeavor?

Dr. Radz: In terms of money, our first program raised more than $24,000 while the second program brought in more than $16,000. This year I have learned how to become better at marketing the program, and as word of what we are doing has spread, I am anticipating we will raise more than $50,000 when the final numbers are tallied.

In terms of what it means for the children and families at the Children’s Hospital Heart Institute, we purchased a Somonetics Oximetry System in 2005. This was something the surgeons desperately wanted for the operating room. The money we raised in 2006 is being held by the Heart Foundation at the hospital to be combined with the money from this year’s program. We did this because we want to purchase a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit Simulation Lab. This is a complex piece of equipment that will help doctors and nurses to practice simulated conditions that can occur in the operating room and CICU. By doing this, they will be better able to prepare for such a situation when it actually occurs. This has been on the wish list of the hospital for a while now, and Nora and I would like to see it happen.

When we partnered with the hospital/Heart Foundation, Nora and I made it clear that our only condition about the money we raised was that we would have direct input on how it is spent. Our intent is to have the money be used on equipment and technology that can immediately help to improve or save lives. I think it is important to mention that, although the Children’s Hospital is located in Denver, it is a huge regional facility with a renowned national reputation. The hospital’s cardiac unit treats children from around the country who are flown to Denver for care.

Dr. Dalin: I think the idea of continuing education for a cause is something special. Dentists need continuing education to improve their skills and knowledge. Why not have those people who need help benefit from this effort? For our readers, here is your contact information for anyone who would like to donate to this cause:Snow Mountain Seminars/Paulina’s Promise, c/o Dr. Gary Radz, 999 18th St., #235, Denver, CO 80202.

Dr. Radz: I would like to thank Dental Economics, Dr. Joe Blaes, and you, Jeff, for your interest in what we are doing with Paulina’s Promise. Nora and I have been touched by the tremendous support we have received from the dental community on the national and local levels. We feel blessed to have so many wonderful, caring friends who have stepped up to support this cause. Nora and I don’t bring attention to this situation so people will feel sorry for our loss. We miss Paulina every day. But since her passing, we have been blessed with three beautiful, healthy children who are Paulina’s legacy to us. We bring attention to this cause in the hope that it will inspire other dental professionals to embrace a cause - whatever it is - and realize that, with a little effort, it is possible to make a difference for others.

Linda C. Niessen, DMD, serves as vice president and chief clinical officer of DENTSPLY International where she oversees global clinical education and professional relations. She is a clinical professor in the department of restorative sciences at Baylor College of Dentistry-Texas A&M University Health Science Center in Dallas. Dr. Niessen also provides patient care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas. Contact her at [email protected].

Dr. Gary Radz maintains a full-time private practice in Denver. He is a clinical associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Dentistry. Dr. Radz recently received his fellowship from the Academy of Comprehensive Esthetics. He lectures internationally on the materials and techniques used in esthetic dentistry. He may be contacted at

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry magazine, and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. He is a co-founder of the Give Kids A Smile program. Contact him at [email protected].

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