Choosing a Dentist - Strategies to Find a Doctor Who's Right for You
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By Dr. David Leader
Choosing a dentist is not the same as finding a life partner or even a business partner. Some people will go to the dentist near their home or office. Others will scour the yellow pages. Today, many dentists advertise in every media from bowling alley score sheets to cable television. Fortunately, most dentists are good at what they do. Here are strategies to use when searching out and evaluating a new dentist.
Understand dental advertising. While 1-800-DENTIST is a free service to patients, it is a very expensive advertising service for dentists ($1500/mo) Welcome wagon, Super coupons, register receipts, magazines and newspapers are all different ways that dentists use to build their practices.
Is there anything wrong with dentists advertising? No. People expect dentists to advertise. Advertisements say a lot about a dentist and their office. Look for office hours, procedures, insurance acceptance, and even parking availability. Look at the style of the ad. Dentists want their ads to reflect the style of their office.
Since most dentists will take good care of their patients, the odds favor choosing a good practitioner. Therefore, any advertising medium or referral source is likely to produce the name of a good dentist. Will the dentist who advertises on a bowling alley score sheet be the dentist for you? Well, you found their name on the sheet. That doctor tailored that ad for bowlers, because his office is nearby, and he feels that he can help you. A next step could be to ask friends and neighbors if they know this dentist. Did they have a good rapport with him? Would they recommend seeing him? Use the same technique to evaluate other dentist advertisements.
Some people choose their professionals by asking around. When moving, ask the current dentist for a recommendation. As with the advertising dentist, friends and neighbors are always a good resource. Another venue is to query related professionals in the area. If you are looking for a general or a family dentist, ask a local dental specialist. Oral surgeons, orthodontists, endodontists, and periodontists have seen the work of several local dentists. They can offer referrals to general dentists they know.
Insurance is an important consideration for many. Most insurance companies have lists of dentists who accept their insurance.
Dental offices are happy to share information about their doctors and staff with prospective patients. A call to the doctor’s office or a visit to the dental office web site may produce a kind of resume. The doctor may want you to know of special certifications they have earned. Fellowships are certifications from professional organizations that usually involve documenting courses taken in that area or specialty (such as cosmetic dentistry or implantology) and taking an examination. Many dentists teach at local dental schools. Dental schools choose their instructors carefully. Some dentists are expert in their field; they lecture to dentists and other professionals at meetings and in schools. These activities may weigh in your choice.
Dentistry has a history of volunteerism. Dentists are known to volunteer and donate money to help charities all over the world and in their home towns. People like to support the dentist who helps a charity they admire.
The first visit to a new dentist includes plenty of time to fill out paper work. Dentists expect their questions to be met with questions from the patient. “How do you sterilize these instruments?” “What kind of training do you have for this procedure?” “Who has access to my personal information?” “May I see photographs of the doctor’s work?” There is no reason to continue a relationship with a professional that does not meet expectations. It is better to end that relationship early.
Finances are an important consideration for many dental patients. The dental receptionist should have information on how the office works with dental insurance. Some dental offices expect payment at the time of service from the patient. The patient or the office submits claim forms, and the insurance company pays the patient. Other offices bill the insurance company, and only ask the patient to pay their co-payment on the day of service. Many offices offer payment plans. Most dental offices accept credit cards.
Other considerations include parking, office hours and availability of appointments. Is there a policy for missed appointments? Are appointments usually taken on time? Some dental offices have this information on their web site. Some offices can send the information out in a brochure.
Shopping for a dentist is a worthwhile activity. Ask around; do some research; find a dentist that makes you feel comfortable.
Dr. David Leader is the Chairman of the Health Advisory Committee of the Lynnfield Schools, a member of the Professional Advisory Committee of Tri-CAP Head Start, and is a member of the Mass Dental Society Council on Dental Care and Benefits Programs.