Finding the right dentist for you and your family involves a combination of factors. But it all comes down to the four C’s: Competence, convenience, compatibility and cost.
First and foremost, you need your dentist to be competent, which means that he or she maintains a high level of professionalism and knows the latest treatments and developments in the dental field. To ensure competent dental care, look for a dentist who is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry. Dentists who are members of the AGD must meet requirements for continuing education and are pledged to uphold the highest standards of ethics and patient care.
A dentist may have a degree that says DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) or DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). These degrees apply to general dentists and represent the same training programs, but different dental schools use different terms.
Convenience is another important factor in finding a dentist. You’ll be much more likely to keep appointments if you choose a dentist whose office is convenient to your home or workplace. Also, look for a dentist whose office hours fit with your schedule. Do you need evening or weekend appointments? Do you have children who could see a dentist after school? These are the type of questions to consider.
Also, a convenient dentist is one who participates with your dental insurance plan. Most dentists in the United States participate with the large dental plans offered by most employers, but you won’t know until you ask. If you have insurance, your insurance company can provide a list of dentists who participate with your plan. Take that list and ask your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations.
Next, consider compatibility. For example, some dentists are specialists in treating patients who are fearful of dental procedures, whether it’s filling a cavity or performing a root canal. So if you tend to be a nervous dental patient, ask your friends and colleagues to recommend a dentist that they like because he or she puts patients at ease. And ask a potential dentist whether he or she offers sedation dentistry, which involves treating you with a sedative via a pill, inhaled gas, or intravenous drug therapy prior to a dental procedure to help you relax.
If you have children, you may want to look for a dentist who has extra training in pediatric dentistry, although most general dentists manage a family practice and are expert at treat patients of all ages. Of course, some dentists are more comfortable and better at working with children than others. It may be worth asking other parents to help you find a child-friendly dentist, because positive experiences with dental care in early childhood can help encourage children to develop and follow consistent oral health care routines as they grow up.
Trust your instincts: Is the office clean and neat? Are your records in order when you arrive? Is there a plan in place for after-hours dental emergencies? Find a dentist who makes you feel comfortable about asking questions, and who explains treatments and procedures so you can understand them.
Finally, consider cost. Some people are very loyal to a dentist they like and will stick with him or her regardless of what their insurance does or doesn’t cover. Others give more weight to cost.
Many insurance plans cover 100 percent of the cost of at least one basic dental checkup and professional cleaning per year, and many plans cover two checkups per year. So it’s always worth the effort to find a quality dentist who participates in your insurance plan. If you need a dental procedure that your insurance plan doesn’t cover, contact the American Dental Association to find out about dental clinics operated by dental schools in your area. These school-based clinics are operated by the schools and supervised by licensed dentists. They often offer advanced procedures as well as basic dental care, often at a reduced cost.
If you have no dental insurance, you may be able to set aside money in a Flexible Spending Account through your employer to help cover a dental procedure, such as orthodontia, that you’re planning in advance.
Another option to consider is the Bureau of Primary Health Care, which is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration, funds community health centers that often provide dental care (as well as medical care) at reduced cost. For more details about finding a dentist through this program, contact HRSA by calling 1-888-ASK-HRSA or by visiting ask.hrsa.gov/pc.