Dr. DeWood holding a set of molded teeth while a student watches.

Few things are more frustrating than spending time and money on dental continuing education that simply doesn’t seem valuable.

Perhaps you know the feeling. You get to the seminar or workshop only to sit in a rigid chair in a dimly lit room with poor microphones that make it nearly impossible to hear the speaker.

The personality and expertise of the lecturers. The location of the venue. Even the food during the breaks adds to your overall comfort. There are many variables to consider in booking the best dental CE seminars and workshops.

We spoke to Spear faculty members, Digest contributors and other dentists to identify a Top 11 list to consider as you seek seminars and workshops to improve your clinical skills, elevate your practice team and provide patients with more consistently predictable outcomes.

Here’s what they said you should look for:

No. 1 — Seminars and hands-on workshops that teach clinical techniques to immediately improve patient care

“I consider the relevance to my practice and how the seminar or workshop can benefit my patients. I want to know how it will help me improve their health and quality of life.” — Andrew Cohen, D.M.D. (Jenkintown, Pennsylvania)

“When I go to a hands-on workshop, I want to be able to learn something unique and interesting that is applicable to my practice and that I can implement easily and quickly without having to purchase thousands of dollars of new equipment.” — Kevin D. Huff, D.D.S., M.A.G.D. (Dover, Ohio)

“Lecture-style CE should provide practical advice that we can implement right away. It should help us understand why we’re struggling in our clinical or managerial duties. It should open our eyes to new treatment opportunities. Lecture-style CE shouldn’t rehash the same lessons that everyone else is talking about and show before-and-after photos with minimal explanation of how the dentistry was accomplished.” — Chris Salierno, D.D.S. (Melville, New York), Chief Editor for Dental Economics

“I’m interested in the value of implementation. Can the doctors take what was presented directly back to their practice and use it to improve their patients’ treatment outcomes on Monday? No matter the length of seminar or workshop, if I can take one practical thing back to my office to improve patient care, then I feel the education was worthwhile.” — Hunter Dawson, D.M.D. (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

“I want something that I can put into use as soon as I return to the office and ideas on how to engage my team, so they support the changes I want to make when I get home. I am there to learn techniques.” — Steve Ratcliff, D.D.S., M.S., Spear Resident Faculty

“In workshops, hands-on exercises must be appropriate to the curriculum and be easily integrated into the attendee's practice upon their return home.” — Edward Roman, D.D.S. (Washington, Pennsylvania)

“Hands-on learning is by far the best style of learning! To be able to put your hands on a material — to feel and smell it, to perform the technique or procedure — creates an experience that solidifies the learning. Hands-on programs should support seminar topics by providing ‘how-tos’ of material or techniques. People learn better through experience. The hands-on workshops provide that experiential component that is so powerful in developing understanding and an integration of concepts.” — Jeff Bonk, D.D.S., Spear Resident Faculty

No. 2 — Sessions on cutting-edge topics or clinical and practice management approaches that you’ve yet to master

“I want to learn something new and innovative, something that I have not heard of before, and something that will challenge me to incorporate new techniques or business processes in places that I have not considered.” — Anissa Holmes, D.M.D. (Kingston, Jamaica), CEO of Delivering WOW

“When I set out to book my CE, I look for a unique topic that we can efficiently implement into our practice, new concepts (such as airway prosthodontics) that are gaining traction in dentistry, and courses that help answer questions about complex cases.” — Andy Janiga, D.M.D. (U.S. Army, Fort Lee, Virginia)

“I enjoy lecture presentations that expand my thought process and create a curiosity to learn more about the subject.” — Jim McKee, D.D.S., Spear Resident Faculty

“I look for an introduction to new topics and ideas. This is where I gather information to determine if it’s something I want to dive into deeper. When I’m ready for deeper learning and integration, I move toward workshop-style CE.” — Brandon Stapleton, D.M.D., M.S.D. (Lexington, Kentucky)

Dr. Dichter lecturing on a stage with projected graphics behind him.

No. 3 — Presenters who are not only masters of the clinical material, but also compelling teachers

“The instructor needs to speak clearly and be able to discuss a complex point in a simple way. Delivering a message with a sense of humor also really works for me. And lastly, they need to be approachable.” — Alan Mead, D.D.S. (Saginaw, Michigan), Dental Hacks podcast

“It is helpful to have different lecturers present if there are different aspects to treatment, such as different specialties that can be involved. If there are different speakers, they should be well-calibrated in their approaches as to not create confusion.” — Jon Rogers, D.M.D. (Greenville, Tennessee), The Dental Guys podcast

“A strong dental CE teacher simplifies the complex. In the ever-changing world of dentistry, it is invaluable to have teachers devoted to research and education, who can filter information and bring it to me in a well-organized fashion.” — Michael Monokian, D.M.D. (Marlton, New Jersey)

“If I am going to a seminar, I am looking for a speaker who is simultaneously entertaining and knowledgeable, who has a mastery of his/her topic, but is humble enough to respectfully welcome challenges from the audience.” — Kevin D. Huff, D.D.S., M.A.G.D.

“I like learning from someone whose primary focus is on the participants and how what I am learning could be integrated into my practice rather than the material or their own goals.” — Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S., Spear Resident Faculty

“A strong dental teacher is someone who is willing to share their failures and teach you how to avoid them.” — Joe Blalock, D.M.D. (Cookeville, Tennessee), Life and Dentistry podcast

“I consider the speaker’s connection with the group. We have to believe them, so I look for honesty, integrity and how they back up what they are teaching.” — Andrew Cohen, D.M.D.

“When people walk away enjoying the presentation and wanting more of that speaker and topic, that’s a success. I look forward to the clinical usefulness and delivery from the speaker that makes me more enthused about the subject. I don’t want YouTube instruction.” — Lou Berman, D.D.S., F.A.C.D., Spear Resident Faculty

“I am drawn to teachers who are talented with their hands but, more importantly, creative with their minds. Anyone can hire a ceramist to make pretty crowns. Teach me how you thought your way through all the issues with the case to create the foundation for the beautiful ceramic.” — Jeff Rouse, D.D.S., Spear Resident Faculty

“I consider the speaker’s ability to relate to a clinician facing the daily challenges that anyone would face in a small-town, private general dental practice.” — Hunter Dawson, D.M.D.

“I have expectations for three things. First, knowledge and organization of the material by the presenter. Second, some literature background without inundating me with arcane articles and references. I’m a clinician at heart, so a ‘balanced’ approach is better. Third, show me your successes and failures, and what you learned from them. Most of us have been practicing long enough to spot a fake, or cases that aren’t relatable or repeatable in everyday practice.” — Douglas Smail, D.D.S. (Troy, New York)

“I believe sincerity is the most important attribute. A sincere lecturer must have a passion for sharing knowledge and needs to encourage the attendee to gain confidence in integrating their newfound knowledge into their practice.” — Edward Roman, D.D.S.

“It’s important that he or she will know more than me on a subject and is willing to admit when they do not know something. Follow up is important on that last point. It is OK to not know everything, but I expect the teacher to follow up on the answer.” — Martin Mendelson, D.D.S., C.P.C., E.L.I.-M.P., Spear Resident Faculty

No. 4 — A venue with relaxing seats, white-glove customer service, effective audio-video components and other elements that engage learners

“Visuals shouldn’t be showy, they should accentuate the lecturer’s point. The photography and slides can be gorgeous, but they should be gorgeous within the context of the speaker’s point.” — Alan Mead, D.D.S.

“I want the staff to act like a great dental assistant and ‘anticipate!’ They should be well-versed in the campus courses, billing options, hotels with shuttles, entertainment and food. They should think of the things that I don’t even know I need. I want them to act as my concierge. I have limited time to learn. My seminar or workshop must also be visually and intellectually stimulating. It needs to promote a path of learning.” — Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.

“The experience and physical setting at the seminar or workshop are essential for success. Comfortable seating, a great audio-video setup for lectures, and well-equipped labs can be the difference between a great learning experience and a waste of time and money.” — Douglas Smail, D.D.S.

“I need to be comfortable in the seating or it is hard to concentrate, and the audio-visual needs to be large enough for the room.” — Steve Ratcliff, D.D.S., M.S.

No. 5 — The uniqueness of location of the seminar or workshop

“As for physical settings, I have taken courses in basements and BBQ joints. You can learn anywhere but you learn best in a beautiful, comfortable setting.” — Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.

“I look for a place where my team and I can explore the local culture to benefit from time together away from the office.” — Anissa Holmes, D.M.D.

“The facility and location are big for me. If I wanted ‘Hotel CE’ there are plenty of places to go.” — Lou Berman, D.D.S., F.A.C.D.

No. 6 — An environment conducive to interaction with others who could help your practice evolve

“Aside from the schedule/time of year, I look to get colleagues to attend with me for a better learning experience, and if the seminar or workshop is going to fulfill a struggle or void in my practice. The camaraderie with other dentists can be incredible, so I love mingling and running questions and ideas by other practitioners, which you can’t effectively do from home.” — Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D., F.A.G.D., A.A.A.C.D. (Wayland, Massachusetts)

“I prefer smaller, intimate settings where networking and collaboration can go on between attendees, vendors and speakers.” — Anissa Holmes, D.M.D.

Dr. Rouse speaking with a student.

No. 7 — An open atmosphere where the lecturer(s) are approachable — more like mentors than talking heads

“I like to feel like they’re talking directly to me. It’s nice to interact with them and for them to acknowledge me and my efforts to integrate the information. The close personal connection makes you believe in yourself even more and makes them stronger as a teacher/leader.” — Brandon Stapleton, D.M.D., M.S.D.

“I learn better in a hands-on setting, so if I’m taking a lecture-style course, the speaker has to be effective at pacing the information and delivering it in an easily digestible fashion. I want to learn from someone who can communicate at a pace that is captivating and effective, someone who is vulnerable on stage, willing to show you the good and bad, and who can check their ego at the door.” — Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D., F.A.G.D., A.A.A.C.D.

“My expectation is to learn from genuine people who are knowledgeable in the topic/material, who have real-life experience in a practice (not just the academic world) and are truly interested in connecting with the attendees to help them grow and apply things when they get home.” — John Carson, D.D.S., P.C. (Tucson, Arizona)

“I want the direction and experience of someone who knows more than me and can do more than me. The speaker should be proficient in ‘writing the script and acting the part.’ Entertain me. Teach me. Make me want more from the speaker and topic.” — Lou Berman, D.D.S., F.A.C.D.

“Good mentors are a very important part of any workshop or seminar and integral to its success. Mentors should be courteous, helpful and good listeners.” — Edward Roman, D.D.S.

“Sitting down with top clinicians and allowing them to constructively critique my dentistry is invaluable. It makes me a better dentist.” — Michael Monokian, D.M.D.

No. 8 — The potential for the seminar or workshop to help the entire interdisciplinary team and practice staff to improve

“I look at the inclusiveness of the program. Will this motivate my team? CE isn’t just learning the next best technique for me. It’s a life-altering experience that motivates me and my team to be the best version of ourselves. I always walk away with some new pearl about how to be a better leader, clinician, team member and human being.” — Brandon Stapleton, D.M.D., M.S.D.

“I want material that will be relevant to the interdisciplinary team and does not exclude one of our members or specialists from the education. I’m also interested in mew material that’s relevant to the young clinicians just starting to navigate their careers.” — Hunter Dawson, D.M.D.

Dr. Mitrani with a group of students, pointing to a TV with side by side comparision images of front teeth.

No. 9 — A seminar or workshop experience that includes supplemental resources to refer to after you return home

“I appreciate that after a seminar or workshop, you can revisit the content on the online platform in case something no longer makes sense, or you hit a stumbling block when executing treatment in your own practice.” — Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D., F.A.G.D., A.A.A.C.D.

“I want a digital or analog handout/manual that allows me to take notes as I go and is easy to review when I return home. My time and money are well-spent when I leave feeling challenged and stimulated to change something or reengage with something I’ve stopped doing.” — Steve Ratcliff, D.D.S., M.S.

“The supporting resources must be comprehensive, easy to find, easy to navigate on the site, and contain content of value.” — Martin Mendelson, D.D.S., C.P.C., E.L.I.-M.P.

“As far as online resources, I’d like to see a wide variety of topics covered, from clinical to practice management to leadership to scientific to controversies to emerging techniques/materials/technologies. I’d like to see short introductions to these topics with links to longer articles/videos that I can watch later for in-depth learning.” — Douglas Smail, D.D.S.

“For online resources, I want to be able to find content easily and quickly and the information is clear and concise. Otherwise, it’s too frustrating and time consuming to find content and resources online.” — Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D. (Mooresville, North Carolina)

“I always like forms that I can adapt to fit the specific needs of my practice. Forms are integral when developing clinical and management systems in a practice.” — Jim McKee, D.D.S.

No. 10 — A venue that reflects the clinical environment

“Some CE providers have a dedicated space for their classrooms, which is certainly ideal for hands-on workshops. It can be a little clunky cramming handpieces and models into the back room of a restaurant.” — Chris Salierno, D.D.S., Chief Editor for Dental Economics

“Workshops become highly dependent on the facility, so I would say that generally I like to be able to mimic the clinical experience as closely as possible through the use of appropriate equipment and, when possible, an appropriate setting such as in-operatory.” — Gary DeWood, D.D.S., M.S.

No. 11 — Authentic, real-life examples

“Evidence-based information is paramount in lecture-style seminars. The presenter should show plenty of real-world examples that are relatable to the typical practice but also show some extreme cases to illustrate worst-case scenarios.” — Jon Rogers, D.M.D.

“For a hands-on dental workshop, I want it to be as close to real life as you can get.” — Joe Blalock, D.M.D.