The best tip? Take your time and ask lots of questions
I’ve been exchanging emails this week with a friend who is in the market for a new dentist.
Like me, she expects good value for her money. She doesn’t want to feel like a cash cow and have unnecessary x-rays, procedures of questionable benefit, or expensive cosmetic dentistry.
She wants a dental office that’s clean and well managed, and a dentist she can feel comfortable talking to about costs. Someone who will answer her questions clearly and then let her decide what is best for her health and her pocketbook.
It doesn’t sound like a lot to ask, does it? But I know from my own experience that finding a new dentist can be a long and frustrating experience.
The first place to always start, however, is asking questions. Lots of them.
Ask yourself these questions
- Do you have dental insurance?
- If so, do you need to choose a dentist from a particular list?
- If not, how important would you rate dental care as part of your household budget?
- Do you feel you need a lot of dental work? Do you have a lot of dental issues?
- Would you rather only see a dentist for an occasional cleaning, or be available in case of an emergency?
- Does going to the dentist cause you anxiety?
- Do you need a dentist that’s good with children?
- Do you want a dentist near your home or your place of work?
Talk to your friends, coworkers, relatives…everyone!
My friend contacted me because she knows I went through this experience recently. Also, as I mentioned, we think alike when it comes to spending money on healthcare. She knows I wouldn’t choose a dentist that went on and on about whitening my teeth!
My dentist is farther away from her home than she would like, so I wasn’t able to give her much help. I just offered support that taking her time was the right thing to do.
She’s currently in the process of questioning everyone she knows for recommendations. She’s lucky because she has several friends who are either dental hygienists or have worked in dental offices. They are great sources of information!
Ask your primary care doctor for a recommendation, too.
Another tip I got from a dentist is to call a local dental lab (they make the crowns and implants) and ask who they recommend.
Ask your friends these questions
- Where is the office located?
- Is parking available? Free or paid?
- Is it near other types of transportation, such as a bus or metro?
- How many people work in the office? (In my experience, a typical dentist will have 3-4 employees; more than that is a red flag that this dentist does more high-cost, possibly unnecessary procedures.)
- What have your experiences been like?
- Is the office staff friendly?
- Was it easy to get an appointment?
- Are you usually seen on time?
- Do you always see the same hygienist, or does there seem to be frequent turnover of staff?
- Is the dentist gentle? (important for those of us with sensitive teeth!)
- Do you feel cosmetic procedures are being pushed?
- Is the dentist good with small children, or even accept small children?
- Are your questions about either dental care or costs answered to your satisfaction?
- What do you particularly like or dislike about your dentist?
Once you’ve made a short list of possible dentists, it’s time to do a little fieldwork.
Ask dentists or their staff these questions
- Do you take my dental insurance?
- Do you offer a cash discount? (important if you don’t have dental insurance)
- What are office hours?
- How far in advance do appointments need to be scheduled?
- What is included in a typical preventive care visit?
- Do you screen for mouth and throat cancers?
- How much does a typical visit cost?
- How frequently are x-rays recommended?
- Do you have a digital x-ray machine? (uses a very low dose of radiation)
- What kind of anesthetics do you use?
- How are you prepared to deal with patients with sensitive teeth or anxiety issues?
- What is the policy for missed appointments?
- How are after-hours emergencies handled?
- Are you a member of the American Dental Association (ADA)? Or the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD)? Or the state dental association?
A few more ways to get additional information:
- Visit the dental office.
- Is the waiting room clean and welcoming?
- Is the staff friendly and professional?
- Are there glossy posters on the walls or brochures on the counters advertising cosmetic dentistry? (a red flag if you want just plain preventive care!)
- Is the office child friendly?
- Go online to your state’s dental board to see if the dentist has had any actions taken against him or her.
- Take a look at the dentist’s website. Most dental offices have these now and it may answer many of the above questions as well as tell you about where they went to school, their family, hobbies and general interests. The dentist might also include a statement about his or her philosophy on dental care and being part of your healthcare team.
- Check out my Resources page for links to online physician/dentist search tools. While they aren’t the best way to find a provider, they can offer some useful information as part of the process.
Bottom line: Finding a new dentist can be tough. But taking your time, asking lots of questions, and doing a little homework can help you find one that’s a good fit for you and your family.