Quality dental care can impact your overall health. So, choosing a dentist is an important decision you’ll want to make as soon as possible. Acting before you have a serious problem can save you time, money, and discomfort.
Before you start your search, check to see if your dental insurance requires you to choose from a list of participating dentists. Some insurance plans allow you to choose an out-of-network dentist (one who does not participate with the plan), but you may pay more out of pocket.
Once you’re clear on your plan’s requirements, these three simple steps will help you find a dentist who puts you at ease and helps keep you healthy.
1. Get dentist recommendations
You can start by asking people you trust—friends, relatives, and coworkers—for recommendations of good dentists. Find out if they’re satisfied with their dentist’s service and quality of care. If you’re moving, start by asking your current dentist for suggestions.
Another tip: Ask for referrals of recommended dentists from your family physician or contact your local or state dental society for dentist referrals in your area. You can also check online review sites, like healthgrades.com or vitals.com, and filter your search by location and ratings from patients.
2. Ask questions before booking a dental appointment
After you’ve come up with a list of two or three dentists who are conveniently located, go to their websites or call their offices to ask some preliminary questions. Some things you may want to find out:
- What are the office hours?
- Does the practice accept your dental plan?
- Is the practice willing to set up a payment plan for more expensive treatments?
- What is the protocol for patients who have emergencies during and after office hours or when the dentist is away?
- How are patients notified when it’s time for a checkup?
3. Take mental notes of your first dental appointment (and ask more questions)
During your first visit, initial impressions can offer valuable clues. Before you even see the dentist, observe carefully: Does the office appear to be clean, neat, and orderly? Is the office staff pleasant and helpful? Does your appointment start on time or did you have to wait?
Because a trusting relationship between you and your dentist is so important, try to reserve time to ask these questions during your first visit:
- Will the dentist develop a treatment plan for you and discuss it with you on a regular basis?
- Will the dentist provide a variety of treatment options?
- Are patients carefully screened for periodontal disease?
The goal is to learn as much as possible, but you also want to see if you’re comfortable with the dentist’s “chairside manner.” For example, do you find them easy to talk to and understand? Were they patient, or did you feel rushed during your appointment?
If you’re dissatisfied with the dentist’s answers to your questions or uncomfortable in any way, consider finding another dentist.
Next: Do your part to take control of your dental health
Once you’ve started with a new dentist, it’s up to you to be proactive with your dental care. Tell your dentist about any changes you notice in your teeth and mouth. Be sure to mention any sores, swelling, or discoloration that you find on your tongue, lips, cheeks, throat, jawbone, or palate. Most oral cancers occur in people over age 55 (although it can occur in younger people); dental checkups are important in helping to detect cancerous lesions early.
Follow your dentist’s recommendations for brushing, flossing, and checkups. By doing your part at home, you’ll contribute significantly to a healthy mouth—and a healthy relationship with your dentist.
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This article is based on information gathered from The American Dental Association and The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.