How to find a good dentist

In the old days, there weren't many dentists.  The standard of dental professionalism and ethics were very high.  In these modern competitive days, things have changed.

As more commercialized dental managements enter the market, higher profit is expected, production goals become the topic of the day.  To achieve the preset goals, some dentists concentrate more on the production goal than the dental problems of each patient.  While the dental fees keep rising, the quality of dental care in some dental practices are decreasing.

As a consumer, to find a dentist best suited your need requires some understanding in dental fields. The knowledge not only helps you find a good dentist, but it also opens a communication door between you and your dentist.

An excellent dentist's primary intention is to serve the patient's need with a tooth preservation principle in mind.  To find a good dentist in your area, you may need to interview each dental practice.  Ask about the dentist's background, the extent of the training in a particular dental field you are interested in and the length in practice.  When choosing a dentist, ask for a list of their patients you can call for references.

Followings are some of the qualities found in good dentists:
  1. Pay attention to your problems- listen to your problems carefully especially in your first visit

  2. Answer all your questions

  3. Discuss the treatment plan and fees in detail prior to establishing dental treatment.

  4. Allow you to express your concern and participate in treatment plan decision

  5. Practice preservation dentistry, e.g., minimal tooth preparation, preserving the tooth rather than removing the tooth

  6. Have training and clinical experience to perform as a specialist in a particular field of dentistry

  7. Treat your primary complaint first unless it is rational to do otherwise

  8. Refer you to specialists when faced with problems that the dentist is not capable of performing.

  9. The dental office must be immaculate.  If the room is not clean, there is a high probability that the dental equipment are not very clean

  10. Use precautions available to protect the patients from harmful X-ray, e.g., use of a lead apron

  11. Have experience, excellent skills, and clinical knowledge in dentistry to provide high-quality dental care

  12. Encourage you to have a second opinion from the dentist of your choice when you are in doubt

  13. Properly clean and sterilize the dental instruments.  See guidelines for cleaning/sterilizing the dental instruments from here.

  14. Have compassion and cares for the patient and believe that patient comfort is a priority throughout dental procedures.
What will you do if you cannot find a dentist with the above qualifications?

The best way to learn about your problems before seeing the dentist is by doing your research.  You may read related topic on this site and participate in questioning through a comment at the end of each subject. Other dental services include "Ask Dentists Now", which charge a minimal fee.  With this approach, you may achieve a better understanding of your dental problems and ways to solve them, thus make a better decision when you see your dentist. 

When your dentist introduces you to treatment other than your primary complaint, allow ample time to make a decision. You may want to request a second opinion from different dentist or specialist of your choice before accepting the deviated treatment plan. For second opinion purpose, it is necessary to have a copy of your most recent x-rays and treatment plan with you.

In fact, you should seek a second opinion from another dentist or specialist in all invasive treatments, e.g., root canal treatment, crown, implant, denture. 

It is wise not to proceed with any treatment until you are confident that it is the right choice for you. You may request a temporary treatment to your dental problem while waiting to make a final decision.

The types of dentist you should avoid:
  1. The dentist that ignores your primary complaint and presents you with different treatment plan that involve a higher fees
  2. The dentist who initiates the treatment prior to discussing with you first

  3. The dentist who is too busy. This type of dentist often provides some treatment in your room shortly and walks away to the other room to treat another patient, back and forth, without completing your treatment. Frequently, the dentist forgets to change the gloves between patients, and sometimes even forget that you are waiting in another room.

  4. When you ask any questions, you do not get clear answers.

  5. The office does not appear clean

  6. The dentist who doesn't want you to have a second opinion or refuses to provide you with a copy of your treatment plan and x-rays

  7. The dentist who doesn't provide topical anesthetic (numbing gel) before injection, administer the anesthetic solution too quickly, and proceed with the treatment without allowing enough time for the tooth to become numb

  8. The dentist who attempts to perform dental treatment in the field that the dentist is not being trained for and doesn't want to refer the patients to a specialist.  


Dental Specialties
A dental specialist is a dentist who completed four years of dental school and continued to complete additional 3-5 years of advanced specialty education programs to become an expert in a chosen field.  Some of the dental specialists are:
Endodontist: a dentist who specializes in saving the tooth through root canal treatment. You can find an endodontist in your area at the American Association of Endodontists.

Periodontist: a dentist who specializes in the treatment related to gums and supporting tissue.  Periodontist helps to save the tooth from gum disease.  You can find local periodontist from American Academy of Periodontology.

Prosthodontist:  a dentist who specializes in replacing a missing tooth, including bridges, full or partial denture, and implant, and fabricating crown for a tooth that cannot be restored by filling.  You may find local prosthodontists from American Board of Prosthodontics.

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: a dentist who specializes in dental, facial, head and neck surgery, which include:
  • Dental implant surgery
  • Corrective jaw surgery
  • Facial injury
  • Facial cosmetic surgery
  • Wisdom tooth extraction
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Head, neck, and oral cancer
  • Dental and soft tissue management
  • Cleft lip and palatal surgery 
You may find your oral and maxillofacial surgeons in the local area from Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons site.

Pediatric Dentist:
A dentist who specializes in children's oral health.  Find local pediatric dentists from American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Orofacial pain specialist: a dentist who specializes in facial muscle pain, temporomandibular joint disorder, Neurovascular pain, headaches, any other disorders that cause facial pain. You may find Orofacial pain specialists from American Academy of Orofacial Pain.

Orthodontist: a dentist who specialized in malocclusion, speech pathology and the improper eruption of teeth. Find local Orthodontist from American Association of Orthodontists

What to do if you have a dispute over the dental care the dentist provided?

The first step is to discuss with the dentist directly to resolve the problem.  If the dentist refuses to communicate with you, you may call the State Dental Boards of the state you live in to report the dispute and request a peer review.  According to American Dental Association, 50% of all cases in peer review are resolved through mediation.  Almost every case settles within 30-60 days.