Part I. Overview of Topic
dentists must graduate from a dental school and be licensed to
practice dentistry in their state. Beyond these basic
requirements, dentists vary greatly in their skills and
expertise. You need to make sure the dentist you
choose meets your needs and expectations.
First, some terminology --
Dentists can either have DMD or DDS attached to
their names. The two degrees are equal; some dental schools give one and some
give the other. A DMD receives the same education and training as a DDS.
Dentists must complete a four-year course of
study to practice general dentistry. Some study another two to four years in
order to specialize. The eight recognized dental specialties are:
Dental public health: Prevention and control of
dental disease and promotion of community dental health
Endodontics: Prevention and treatment of
diseases of the root pulp and related structures (root canal therapy)
Oral and maxillofacial pathology: Diagnosis of
tumors, other diseases, and injuries of the head and neck
Oral and maxillofacial surgery: Tooth
extractions; surgical treatment of diseases, injuries, and defects of the
mouth, jaw, and face
Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics:
Diagnosis and correction of tooth irregularities and facial deformities
Pediatric dentistry: Dental care of infants and
Periodontics: Treatment of diseases of the gums
and related structures
Prosthodontics: Treatment of oral dysfunction
through the use of prosthetic devices such as crowns, bridges, and
Developing a List of Dentists to
Not long ago it was common to get the name of a
dentist from a friend, relative, or co-worker. Or maybe you’d just choose a name
from the yellow pages. For better or worse, the Internet affords opportunities
for making a decision based on more comprehensive information.
Friends, relatives, and coworkers are still
good sources for names of dentists. You can also get names from medical doctors,
pharmacists, dental schools, dental insurance companies, dental specialists, and
But don't overlook the Internet. Referral
sites like www.1800dentist.com and www.dentalreferral.com have names of
dentists by location. However, be aware that dentists pay to be listed on these
sites (though there's no charge to you to use them). And remember --- these are
ads, not recommendations. You can also find names through Revolution Health,
www.revolutionhealth.com, an online
health site with tons of information. Consumers can enter reviews of dentists,
but none of the dentists I checked had reviews, yet.
Every state has a dental licensing board
that lists every licensed dentist in the state. You can usually find your
state’s dental board on the state’s website, often in the licensing section. Or
go to Dental Watch (www.dentalwatch.org/org/boards.html)
for links to all state dental licensing boards.
Evaluating the Dentists
Once you have a list of prospective dentists,
you can evaluate and compare to decide which one is for you. Here’s a three-step
1. Before you make an appointment --
Ask your dental licensing board
about each dentist on your list. Some states do this online, but others require
a call. Ask if your candidates are licensed to practice dentistry in your state.
The various states have different levels of licensure; ask about that. Once you
confirm that a dentist is licensed, ask if there are any actionable complaints
about that dentist. Actionable means that a complaint has been investigated and
found to have merit, resulting in some action against the dentist.
Dental malpractice is handled through insurance
companies and the courts. Dental boards don’t have that information.
Now your list has only licensed dentists
without actionable complaints. Next step is a phone call to each office. Here
are some questions you might want to ask.
Ask about fees for standard procedures such
as full mouth x-rays and preventive visits with oral exam and teeth cleaning
so you can compare costs.
If accessibility is a concern, find out if
the office can accommodate your needs.
If you know you need a certain procedure,
make sure the dentist does it.
Do they take your insurance? Are they willing
to work out a flexible payment plan?
Check to see if the dentist has a website. If
so it could tell you a lot about the style and professionalism of that
Compare what you've found out so far and
narrow your search to two or three possibilities.
2. Meeting the dentist --
Make an appointment with each dentist on your
pared down list. Ideally this will be a free visit, not a paid consultation.
During the appointment, here are some things to check out:
Is the office clean, neat, and friendly?
What are the arrangements for emergencies?
Some dentists don’t handle emergencies because of low insurance
If you are considering cosmetic dentistry,
ask for before and after photos.
If you know you need a particular procedure,
ask how many times the dentist has done it.
How many years has the dentist been in
practice in this state? Other states?
3. Your first clinical visit --
If you find a dentist that passes muster on the
above points, you're ready for your first clinical visit. Here are a few things
to watch out for when “in the chair” and getting treatment.
Do the dentist and all assistants wash their
hands before and after treatment, even if they wear gloves?
Do all practitioners explain what they are
about to do before they do it?
Does the dentist offer preventive treatment
Does the dentist clearly explain any
treatment, giving options and alternatives?
Does the dentist follow a treatment plan
tailored to your own situation? Beware of dentists who recommend elaborate
If the first dentist on your list survives all
this scrutiny, Congratulations! You have a dentist. But if you’re not satisfied
--- because of the work, the atmosphere, the sanitation, whatever reason ---
check out dentist number two. It may be a tedious process, but the next time you
get a tooth ache you’ll have a competent dentist to turn to.
II. For Additional Research
This Section provides reviews and
recommendations of Web sites and other online resources.
Consumers Research compiles a guide to
top dentists: http://www.consumersresearchcncl.org/Healthcare/Dentists/top_dentists.html
The Consumers Research guide includes a
list of dental associations: http://www.consumersresearchcncl.org/Healthcare/Dentists/dent_links.html#assoc
At ChoiceTrust (www.choicetrust.com) you can find out
whether a dentist has an active license and a clean history. They charge $11.95
for a one-day pass that allows you to check out multiple dentists. A single
report is $7.95. You can get this information for free from your state dental
licensing board, but if your dentist has (or you think has) practiced in other
states, it may be worth paying for a nationwide report.
The American Dental Association
(www.ADA.org) has data on member
dentists as well as helpful information about the practice of dentistry. You can
also find contact information for state dental associations through
Federally funded health centers provide
low- or no-cost dental care. Go to http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov/ to
find one near you.
Related Web Search GuidesRecommended Reading
Other Web Search Guides you may find useful:
Checking Out Doctors
Checking Out Lawyers
Checking Out Stockbrokers
Checking Out a Business