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March 09 2010

A Checklist When Choosing a Dentist

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Kids seeing a dentist for the first time today don’t share the unhealthy fears many of us share about this particular profession. Many of the amenities and improved procedures they use now make an appointment with your dentist seem lik a walk in the park. When I was growing up, my dentist office didn’t provide choices like nitrous oxide, heating pads, or music to listen to while being worked on. This would have made me much more comfortable. Many dentists today even use dental lasers as a substitute for dental tools such as drills and picks that I remember so well.

Here is a checklist that will simplify the process of choosing a dentist for you or your family in this day and age.

• It is important that your dentist has experience in the many of the fields of dentistry that you may need or at least be able to refer you to an appropriate specialist. There are eight recognized specialties. How many of these does your dentist have or what kind of a referral process do they have in place?

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1) Dental Public Health (for the prevention and control of dental disease).
2) Endodontics (root canal therapy)
3) Oral and maxillofacial pathology (diagnosis of tumors and/or injury to the head and neck).
4) Oral and maxillofacial surgery (tooth extractions, surgical treatment of diseases, or outright defects of the mouth, jaw, or face).
5) Orthodontics (corrections of tooth irregularities).
6) Pediatric dentistry (dental care for infants and children).
7) Periodontics (treatment for gum disease).
8) Prosthodontics (treatment through the use of crowns, bridges, dentures, etc).

• The dentist is a licensed practitioner with at least a Doctor of Dental Medicine degree (D.M.D.) but preferably a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree (D.D.S.). Finding out how long they’ve been practicing also gives you insight to their experience level.

• They perform a complete examination of not only the teeth but of the gums, inside of the cheeks, tongue, lips and even examine the neck for abnormal lymph nodes or enlargement of the thyroid gland.

• Use full-mouth x-rays.

• What amenities are offered like nitrous oxide, heating pads, comforting music, lasers, etc?

• Find out if the office provides emergency care after hours or on weekends/holidays.

• If you need cosmetic work ask if it’s possible to see before-and-after photos of previous patients.

• Always determine dental costs before you receive treatment. Make sure the dental office will work with your dental insurance as well (that is if you’re lucky enough to have it). We know that the cleanings and exams are usually fully covered, where procedures like fillings, crowns and bridges have less coverage. It is always good to have an idea of what your out-of-pocket expenses will look like.

There is one last thing I want to mention about your choice of a dentist. Checklists are great but when all is said and done you have to be comfortable with the person you select. For me, it’s important that I choose a dentist I can stay with for several years to come. I need him/her to be friendly and courteous but also empathetic to my fears and needs. This, too, is important for his/her entire staff. Let’s face it, sometimes we spend more time with the receptionist or hygienist than we do with the dentist themselves. It’s important that they take a personal interest in my experience at their office. When all is said and done, if I have made the right choice for me, I may be able to remove the old saying, “as difficult as pulling teeth” from my vocabulary.