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Finding a Good Dentist

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How to Find a Good Dentist

Finding the right dentist for you and your family involves a combination of factors. But it all comes down to the four C’s: Competence, convenience, compatibility and cost.

First and foremost, you need your dentist to be competent, which means that he or she maintains a high level of professionalism and knows the latest treatments and developments in the dental field. To ensure competent dental care, look for a dentist who is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry. Dentists who are members of the AGD must meet requirements for continuing education and are pledged to uphold the highest standards of ethics and patient care.

Dental Options to Consider

  • Dental schools: A dentist may have a degree that says DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) or DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). These degrees apply to general dentists and represent the same training programs, but different dental schools use different terms. Many dental schools sponsor patient clinics and offer quality dental care at reduced cost. Visit the American Dental Association Web site, ada.org, for a list of dental schools to see whether there is a dental school clinic in your area, or ask at a local community health center.

  • Shop around: You can evaluate the overall cost of dental care by figuring out the cost of getting to the dentist and the convenience of the office hours. Many insurance plans cover 100 percent of the cost of at least one basic dental checkup and professional cleaning per year, and many plans cover two checkups per year. So it’s always worth the effort to find a quality dentist who participates in your insurance plan. If you need a dental procedure that your insurance plan doesn’t cover, contact the American Dental Association to find out about dental clinics operated by dental schools in your area. These school-based clinics are operated by the schools and supervised by licensed dentists. They often offer advanced procedures as well as basic dental care, often at a reduced cost.

  • Assistance plans: Use the American Dental Association Website or a community health center to contact your state's dental society about assistance in paying for dental care for persons in need. The assistance programs vary from state to state, and some states may offer special programs to help pay for dental care for children. Also, some dentists and dental schools participate in community outreach programs to provide free or low-cost dental care to people who are uninsured. If you have no dental insurance, you may be able to set aside money in a Flexible Spending Account through your employer to help cover a dental procedure, such as orthodontia, that you’re planning in advance. Another option to consider is the Bureau of Primary Health Care, which is part of the Health Resources and Services Administration, funds community health centers that often provide dental care (as well as medical care) at reduced cost.

  • Convenience: Convenience is another important factor in finding a dentist. You’ll be much more likely to keep appointments if you choose a dentist whose office is convenient to your home or workplace. Also, look for a dentist whose office hours fit with your schedule. Do you need evening or weekend appointments? Do you have children who could see a dentist after school? These are the type of questions to consider.

  • Compatibility: For example, some dentists are specialists in treating patients who are fearful of dental procedures, whether it’s filling a cavity or performing a root canal. So if you tend to be a nervous dental patient, ask your friends and colleagues to recommend a dentist that they like because he or she puts patients at ease. And ask a potential dentist whether he or she offers sedation dentistry, which involves treating you with a sedative via a pill, inhaled gas, or intravenous drug therapy prior to a dental procedure to help you relax.

  • Dentists Good with Children: If you have children, you may want to look for a dentist who has extra training in pediatric dentistry, although most general dentists manage a family practice and are an expert at treating patients of all ages. Of course, some dentists are more comfortable and better at working with children than others. It may be worth asking other parents to help you find a child-friendly dentist, because positive experiences with dental care in early childhood can help encourage children to develop and follow consistent oral health care routines as they grow up.

For more details about finding a dentist, contact HRSA by calling 1-888-ASK-HRSA or by visiting ask.hrsa.gov/pc