- Read patient reviews
If you had asked me 15 years ago how to find a good dentist, I would have suggested asking your friends and neighbors for a recommendation. Now, in the age of the Internet, you can read reviews of almost any product or service online from the comfort of your own home.
If you want to find out what it’s like to be a patient in a specific dental office, I highly recommend reading reviews written by past patients. However, I do have one strong caution: be sure that you place special emphasis on independent review sites like doctoroogle.com that cannot be easily manipulated or seeded with fake positive reviews.
- Ask other dentists
If you really want to know who is a respected, talented, and honest professional, ask a colleague in the same field. Other doctors know who is talented, who is kind, and who scrupulously puts their patient’s interests first. When you see a positive online review of a dentist by another dental professional, that’s a sign that he or she is very well respected within his or her dental community.
- Check out the dentist’s website
A dental office’s website can give you a lot of information about that practice—much more than just contact information and rates. Here are several things to look for.
- Does the website look professional? I think the same way about good websites as I do good manners. Both are really an expression of respect for other people with whom one is trying to communicate.
- Does the website have helpful information about topics that are important to you?
- What does the website tell you about the doctor and the staff? Do you get a feel for who they are, and do you like them?
- Is there a discussion about philosophy of care? Does the website communicate that the healthcare provider is respectful, considerate, and will interact with you like a person—not just a set of teeth and gums that may need treatment?
- Does the website offer a virtual tour or pictures of the office, so that you can get a sense of what it looks and feels like?
- Is there something special about this office or this dentist that would be a good fit for your needs?
- Look for outstanding credentials, awards, and expertise
Let’s get one thing out on the table: everyone wants a really, really good doctor. However, I know that dental credentials can be confusing for the general public, so it’s hard to know which credentials are significant. Here are some tips in evaluating your doctor’s credentials.
- Basic degree and license: Every dentist has either a DDS or a DMD degree. If you would like to know about a dentist’s degree and license status, do a Google search for your state dental board (for example, “Missouri Dental Board”). Citizens are entitled to call their state board to ask if the dentist has a current license in good standing and whether the dentist’s license has ever been disciplined by the dental board due to a patient complaint. When I speak in public, I always encourage people to use this resource.
- Advanced post-graduate residencies: Approximately 20% of dentists receive advanced training beyond dental school in post-graduate residency programs approved by the Council on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Look for a mention of any CODA-approved residencies.
- Membership in dental organizations: Not all dental organizations have equal weight. Look for organizations that require advance training or peer nomination by other dentists.
o For example, the American Equilibration Society requires a minimum level of post-graduate training in treating bite and jaw problems as well as nomination by a peer dentist, and less than 1% of dentists are invited to join.
o As another example, to be a member of the American College of Dentists or the International College of Dentists, a dentist must be nominated by other dentists based on a history of ethical practice, leadership, and service in the profession.
Less than 2% of dentists are invited to join these organizations. Membership in the American Dental Association and the Academy of General Dentistry demonstrate a commitment to continuing education and to the ethical standards of the profession.
- Awards: Any awards given by state or national dental associations, or by a dental school, indicate a high level of respect for and achievement by that dentist.
- Call the office with your questions
I always recommend that patients use the telephone to screen a potential dental office. These are the things I listen for when I call a professional for the first time to potentially schedule an appointment.
Is the person on the telephone happy and friendly?
The best indication of how you’ll be treated by a dental office is the relationship between the dentist and the people that work with him or her. If the person answering your telephone sounds happy and friendly, that’s a very good sign. If not, you may not want to spend much time with them.
Does the person take the time to understand your problem or situation?
To be blunt, when you call a dentist, you’re the client. The first priority of the dental staff should be to understand your particular situation. You want to be sure that your dental professionals will take your circumstance and priorities into consideration. Really great healthcare providers take time to listen to and understand their patients.
Does the person on the telephone actually help move you closer to a solution to your issues?
If you had a question, was it adequately answered? If you had a problem, did you end up with a timely appointment to help solve your problem?
- Make a risk-free consultation appointment
As a patient, you have every right to evaluate a healthcare provider before committing to their care. If you’ve used the first 5 search tools listed above but still aren’t sure, call the office and ask for a consultation appointment to meet with the dentist and discuss your situation without having to have a “dental exam.” Most offices will be glad to make a consultation appointment. That will give you an opportunity to personally talk with the doctor and decide if he or she is a good match for you.
During my years of service to my patients, to state and national dental associations, and to the Missouri Dental Board, I have been impressed with the integrity and dedication of many dentists. There are many very fine dentists out there serving patients. The trick is to find the best match for you to best serve your needs.
I sincerely hope this guide to choosing a dentist has been helpful, and I welcome your questions and feedback. Best of luck in choosing a great dentist for yourself and your family!