A Hygienist’s Guide to Succeeding at Dental Conferences

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I absolutely love attending dental conferences, especially when it is an excuse to travel. At times, it can get overwhelming when there are tons of course options, networking opportunities, and social events happening in a very short timeframe.

Here are a few helpful tips and considerations that can help you get ready for your next dental conference.

Registration

I recommend registering early for any type of conference for a couple of reasons. One, it is usually considered “early bird,” and it is probably the lowest cost compared to months down the road. Sometimes, conferences show the price changes as it gets closer to the event. There may be a promo code when registration is open. But you do not see that too often. If there is a promo code available, this can save you money towards registration or a course you want to register for.

You may want to subscribe to the emails or newsletters about the conference. You can also follow them on social media to receive updates. Periodically, conferences may advertise new events or courses that were added. They may also include updated schedules, policies, room changes, or even canceled courses. Subscribing to newsletters, receiving emails, and following them on social media avoids the risk of missing out on important conference information or some fun add-ons along the way.

The second reason for registering early is that you are the first to make your course options prior to them filling up.

Dental Conference Registration and Choosing Courses

Dental conferences can have different registration formats. For example, some conferences include all courses available under purchasing registration. You can register for the full (entire) conference or register for selected days. A “full conference badge” usually includes all courses, networking events, and social events for one lump price. If you decide to attend on certain days and not the entire conference, that includes whatever courses and events are scheduled for that day for one price.

When you register, the conference website should allow you to review the course and networking schedule, and you can make your personal selections. If you change your mind about your selections, often, you can either change your selections closer to the conference, or you don’t have to attend.

Once at the conference, if an attendee does not attend a course they signed up for in a set amount of time once the course begins, another attendee on the waitlist can attend. However, I have observed that courses at conferences are not ticketed anymore (requiring signing up for a course during the purchase of registration), so you can just walk in.

If the cost of courses is in addition to the conference registration, be mindful of your selections because not all courses may be the same cost. Sometimes, certain courses, such as hands-on courses or certain special events, maybe add-ons to one’s registration. If courses are longer in duration, very popular, limited capacity, or certification courses, they may cost more.

When selecting courses, it can be a lot. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. What topics are you interested in? Brainstorm as you gravitate toward registration. Then read through the course options. What pops out to you when reading the title, course description, and learning objectives?

2. What class format do you prefer? Lecture, hands-on, or a combination? A combination course may be a local anesthesia refresher, laser certification, advanced instrumentation, or educator’s calibration courses.

3. What courses apply to your license? Are you due for CPR/BLS renewal or need an infection control course for re-licensure? Do not forget to double-check your state’s CE requirements and dental practice act. Certain required CE courses must be board approved in some states to be counted towards your license.

Are you looking for advanced certifications or expanded functions such as lasers? Some certifications, such as lasers, are commonly multi-day courses taking place before the conference starts or throughout your time at the conference.

Is there a course focusing on your patient population, such as pediatrics or geriatrics? Are you looking to expand your horizons and learn something completely new, or are you looking for a refresher in a particular area? If you are an educator who teaches radiography, perhaps look for applicable topics.

4. Is there a speaker you really enjoy? Engaging speakers you like allows more learning to occur because you are invested in the course. Review the speaker’s biographies, websites, or social media to learn more about them.

5. Read the course description, learning objectives, and other listed course information. I have taken so many courses that I thought a course was about one thing and turned out to be completely different.

When reading the course information, it may be helpful to check if the course is sponsored by a manufacturer and read the speaker’s conflict of interest disclosure, which shows the speaker’s affiliations with companies or manufacturers. If a speaker is affiliated with specific commercial interests, they may be heavily focused on one aspect of a topic rather than the entire topic objectively. This may be accidentally misleading when selecting a course. Rereading all the given information about the course and speaker can help reduce the risk of this occurring.

Exhibit Hall

First and foremost, know the exhibit hall hours and review which companies and manufacturers are attending. This will help you map out your day. I would also recommend having a physical or mental list of who you want to visit.

Are you looking for new instruments or interested in talking to a loupes representative? Are you looking for new innovations or trying to find some conference specials you can bring back to your office or school?

If you have the time, I encourage you to visit as many booths as possible. You may learn something new that you were not expecting. Or you may even find a new job position or career path. Don’t be afraid to ask questions for more information or a sample. That is why they are there!

Networking and Social Events

Many conferences offer networking and social events throughout the conference. It is a fun break from the learning environment. Many events are included with the event registration, however, you may need to register for them due to limited capacity, but I definitely recommend taking advantage of them. You may even get some drinks and snacks along the way too.

During these events, I have met so many people that eventually become part of your professional network. You can bounce ideas off each other during these events. You never know if you need advice, recommendations, or a different perspective down the road in your career.

Check Your Registration Periodically

Along the way, I recommend checking your registration account to make sure courses haven’t been accidentally dropped, new courses or events added, room changes, or other errors. I have experienced all of these. You can check periodically right up until registration closes. Personally, I check every few weeks or monthly just to ensure there are no changes or errors. Also, not all courses and events are posted right when registration opens, so check out the conference website periodically.

I have had courses disappear from registration, and because I caught it before the event, I was able to get it resolved. When I had this issue or other conference questions, I contacted the conference directly through their help or contact us page on the conference website. Some also have contact information for technical issues available. I have found they are usually very prompt with getting back to you.

Have a Game Plan and Consider Your Time

I like to have a printed and digital copy of my registration. Definitely do not delete any emails regarding registration or hotel information until after the conference.

I create a printed copy to stay organized on where I need to be and when. This includes the date, time, course name, how many credits, and room number. Some conferences have their own mobile app so you can stay updated on room changes or any other announcements or updates throughout your time at the conference.

Did you schedule yourself so tight that you are running from one course to another? Do you allow yourself a break or time to walk the exhibit hall? I have done this a time or two. I am interested in so many courses and activities that I have to ensure I stay on time.

Determining your schedule and break times are all up to you. If this is your first time attending a conference, I recommend giving yourself more time in between or allotting time in the day somewhere for a break – enjoy yourself, wander throughout the conference to understand the layout, and check out the exhibit hall. I have had two-plus hour breaks to as low as 15 minutes between courses. This aspect of a conference is a personal choice of how involved or fast-paced you decide to be.

Other Reminders

Some other small reminders for attending are to wear comfortable shoes, bring water and snacks if needed, and also bring a light jacket if you get cold easily. Some conferences in convention centers only take credit or debit cards, so keep that in mind.

In Closing

I love the conference environment. I find it interesting to start seeing the same people attending conferences each year. Learning about what other dental professionals are doing nationwide or internationally is amazing. We all have different experiences and scopes of practice.

Conferences are great places to meet people in person that you have known virtually. Then the more and more years you attend the same conference, you start seeing those familiar faces. Those familiar faces then become friends! I have connected with many individuals I have worked with or communicated with virtually and introduced myself in person for the first time at conferences – one being Kara RDH herself!

Just going up to someone to say hi and introduce yourself is such an important part of networking. This could mean introducing yourself to a speaker after a course, chatting with an attendee or someone you follow on social media, or talking to a manufacturer representative at their booth. This has allowed me to have other mentors and resources I can turn to when I need advice or help or even job opportunities.

Dental conferences, in my opinion, are very inspiring. They are a chance to refresh and recharge your passion for your career. When I first started attending conferences, I felt so special and gained more confidence.

Along with getting the required CE credits, it can be fun regardless if you attend alone, with a friend, or with your office. You can always start on a smaller scale, such as state or regional level.

You can get a lot out of this type of experience. It is also OK if you are unable to get to everything during the conference. It’s a good excuse to go back next year!

Before you leave, check out the Today’s RDH self-study CE courses. All courses are peer-reviewed and non-sponsored to focus solely on pure education. Click here now.

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Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS, MEd, FADHA
Since a very young age, Kaitlyn Machado, RDH, BS, MEd, FADHA, has always wanted to be a dental hygienist. She was the youngest student to graduate from her dental hygiene class in 2017. Since then, Kate has returned for her bachelor's and master's degrees. She is a faculty member at her local dental hygiene school and a clinical dental hygienist. Kate has been a part of Today's RDH since its launch. She is extremely passionate about homecare, loves her prophy paste and fluoride varnish, and enjoys attending professional conferences. In addition, Kate loves to work with a local non-profit organization that helps fight against hygiene insecurity of all ages in her community. As a lifelong learner, she enjoys being as involved as possible in the dental hygiene profession. When Kate isn't working, she enjoys traveling, sports, watching movies, and spending time with her amazing, supportive family.