How to Choose a Dentist

Choosing the right dentist for you and your family is an important task. You’ll want someone you are comfortable with who is also properly trained to provide the type of dentistry you need.

Look for a dentist affiliated with a reputable office that is convenient to your home or work. The dentists’ credentials and reviews about the practice should be available online.

Qualifications

Qualified dentists are either doctors of dental surgery (DDS) or doctors of dental medicine (DMD). These degrees are equivalent and mean the dentist has completed a minimum of two years of pre-dental college work followed by four years of dental school. Dentists must pass national and state exams to become licensed.

Specialties

Dentists may also be board-certified as specialists in certain focused areas of dentistry. These recognized specialties require two or more years of advanced training and schooling. Recognized dental specialties include pedodontics or pediatric dentistry; endodontics or root canal therapy; oral and maxillofacial surgery and pathology; prosthodontics or restorative treatments such as crowns, bridges and dentures; periodontics or gum treatment; and orthodontics.

Hygienists

Routine cleanings are often performed by a dental hygienist or assistant. The hygienist’s designation may be RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist) or RDHEF (Registered Dental Hygienist with Extended Functions). A dental assistant may assist a dentist during a procedure, set up anesthesia, take x-rays and perform other general tasks. The services performed by dental hygienists and assistants may vary by state and location.

Questions to Ask

When visiting a new dentist, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Find out how long the practice has been in operation and how long the dentist has been practicing. Ask about the dentist’s training and experience with the type of procedure you need. Ask which professional dental societies the dentist belongs to and whether they keep up-to-date on the latest procedures and technological advances. Ask about the type of emergency care offered, such as evening, weekend and same-day appointments. It is important for you to fully understand any diagnosed and needed treatment, so you may want to ask for clarification and more details before scheduling treatment.

Fees

Although you should not choose your dentist based on price alone, it is important to make sure you understand the fees before you consent to treatment. If you have insurance and need help understanding what your plan covers and what your out-of-pocket expenses may be, the office should be able to assist you with that. If you don’t have dental insurance, check to see if the office provides an in-house discount plan, such as DentRite (www.dentrite.com). Keep in mind, however that quality dental work done right the first time is far more valuable than inferior work that will cause discomfort or need replacement.

Often there are several different treatment options for the same dental concern. For example, missing teeth can be replaced by dental implants, dentures, removable bridges and fixed bridges. You and your dentist will need to determine which option is best for you depending on your individual situation.

What to Expect

Your dentist and the office staff should be personable and considerate. They should recommend routine cleanings, bite evaluations, periodontal exams and x-rays as preventive care that will help you avoid more extensive repair work down the road.

A comprehensive dental examination includes inspection of the teeth, gums, tongue, lips, inside of the cheek, palate, and the skin of the face and neck, plus feeling the neck for abnormal lymph nodes and enlargement of the thyroid gland. A periodontal probe should be inserted between the gums and teeth to measure space between gums and teeth – larger than normal space could be an indication of periodontal disease or other conditions. The dentist should discuss their findings with you and recommend a thorough plan for any treatment needed.

Many dentists prefer not to schedule cleanings at the same time as a new patient comprehensive exam. This is because x-rays and a thorough exam are necessary to determine the type of cleaning most clinically appropriate for your individual oral healthcare needs. For example, if periodontal disease is detected, patients may need more than a routine, healthy-mouth cleaning.

Overcoming Fears

If you have anxiety about visiting the dentist or suffer from a severe gag reflex, ask what the dentist offers for patient comfort. Many dentists now offer sedation dentistry for anxious patients.