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Steps to Finding the Right Dentist

Finding a new dentist best suited to meet your particular dental needs requires an introduction to the various fields of dentistry. The more you understand the differences between the dental fields, the more successful you will be in your search.

Usually, the best place to start is with a family or general dentist. A general dentist is licensed to diagnose dental issues and oral conditions, develop treatment plans and provide certain treatments. When necessary, general dentists may refer you to a more specialized practitioner (like an orthodontist or prosthodontist). Qualified dentists are designated as either DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) or DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine).

Dentists provide treatment with help from dental hygienists and dental assistants. A hygienist performs professional dental cleanings. The hygienist’s designation may be RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist), or RDHEF (Registered Dental Hygienist with Extended Functions).

A dental assistant may assist during a procedure, set up anesthesia, expose and develop radiographs or perform other general tasks. In accordance with U.S. law, hygienists and assistants must work under the supervision of a dentist.

12 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Dentist

  1. Find out how long the practice has been in operation.
  2. Ask about the extent of the dentist’s training and clinical experience in performing the specific procedure you may require.
  3. If the dentist does not perform certain procedures, ask about his/her referral process.
  4. Before committing yourself to a dentist, identify all the procedure options that would solve your cosmetic dental concern. Ask about the pros and cons of each option.
  5. Ask about the types of professional dental societies the dentist participates in. Some societies require dentists to take continuing education classes to keep them up-to-date on the latest procedures and technological advances in the field.
  6. Ask about the type of emergency care offered. For example, is the dentist available after hours and on weekends?
  7. Inquire about patient comforts, such as pre-medication or nitrous oxide, and amenities such as music or heating pads.
  8. Inquire about the use of dental lasers as an alternative to traditional dental tools such as tooth drilling and scalpels.
  9. If your needs include cosmetic dentistry procedures, ask to see before-and-after photos of previous patients. Bring a photo of the result you would like to see or a picture of yourself before the need for cosmetic dentistry to help set a reasonable expectation for your procedure’s outcome.
  10. Determine dental costs prior to treatment. Dental cost totals should include procedure fees, anesthesia fees, and facility fees. If you have dental insurance, chances are good that there will be some benefit coverage applicable to procedures such as preventative dental care (professional cleanings and exams) and amalgam fillings (the traditional metal fillings). Less coverage may be available for composite fillings (which have an enamel-like finish) and restorative dental work such as bridges, dentures and crowns. Coverage for orthodontia varies among dental insurance plans. Your out-of-pocket costs are typically determined at the initial consultation.
  11. Is the office located nearby? This could be important if your procedures require frequent or multiple visits.
  12. Is the dental team friendly and courteous? You may not want to see a dentist long term if you don’t feel comfortable with his/her team.