Common Conditions

The Ultimate Guide to Finding an Awesome Dentist

Don't pick randomly from the list of dentists your insurance company gave you. Check out this insider's guide with tips you won't find anywhere else.

by Dr. Burhenne

How to find an awesome dentist?
Q:

I moved about seven months ago to a new area, and I've been meaning to see a dentist for a regular checkup. The problem is that I have no way of evaluating who is a good or bad dentist! My insurance company just gives me a list of names. How do I determine the quality of a dentist without any criteria?

A: Finding a new dentist can be a very daunting task. I’ve noticed that when I meet a new patient, I find out that the dentist is usually the last thing that’s picked when people move to a new town.

That’s after the dry cleaner, children’s school, family doctor and even bartender!

Yep, imagine that, being last on the list!

Who you choose as a dentist will have an enormous impact on your health — positive or negative.

It’s an important decision that has ramifications beyond your first visit. So take your time, and choose wisely. After all, it’s easy to fire your bartender!

Some of this is common sense, some is not so obvious, and some is inside knowledge…

Is the dentist interested in whole body health?

The right dentist is concerned not just with the teeth themselves, but the connection of oral health to the rest of the body. Your dentist should be asking you about your health history and educating you about how your oral health impacts the health throughout your body. 

If the dentist has an attitude of, “there’s a hole in the tooth, let’s fill the hole” — then that’s not a modern dentist and you can do better. Problems in the mouth can increase your chances of heart disease, dementia, and diabetes to name just a few, and the right dentist is thinking about the health of the mouth in connection with the health of the rest of the body as well as how to square your life curve.

Ask your current dentist if he knows someone at your new destination.

Many times she will know someone that they went to school with or know of someone that is an excellent dentist. Ask for as many names your dentist can provide.

Ask your dentist if he is a member of a professional organization.

I’m a member of a study club that meets every month to perform clinical work with a mentor present. This study club has members from all over the world that are all held to the same standard, which means I can simply open my membership booklet and refer my patient to another dentist in any part of the world with complete confidence.

Dentists in these study clubs work to refine their hands-on clinical skills beyond what they learned in school. This should be differentiated from continuing education courses that are lecture-based and don’t involve hands-on skill refinement.

Ask your insurance company if you have an out of network option.

You may have a list of dentists that your insurance company requires you to see. Ask your insurance company immediately if there is an out of network option as you will be severely limited to a certain type of dentist if picking only from that list.

Ask for a recommendation from friends, family, or work mates.

Only take the recommendation if they’ve had work other than cleanings done, like a crown or bridge. You might wind up with a good hygienist who’s practicing with an incompetent dentist which is a likely scenario.

Google the dentist.

Don’t let your fingers do the walking (stay away from the yellow pages), rather, put them to work on the internet.

Your peers on the web will have something to say. But not all reviews are created equal.

Look at reviews that personally relate a story. The boiler plate type of review that refers to all aspects of the practice and doesn’t get into details about procedures should be considered suspect.

Ask to interview the dentist and staff.

The reaction alone to this request will be telling.

Call the US Consulate.

If you are moving out of the country (or even going on vacation), check in right away with the nearest US consulate and ask who the consular general and his family see. Chances are he’s a US trained dentist.

Don’t wait until you have an emergency as you will be at the mercy of a greater range of dentists when in a foreign country. For my opinion on dentistry in countries outside the US, click here.

The next step: Go into the office.

After your first visit, ask yourself these questions and walk away if you don’t like the answers.

Was everything explained to me and was there justification for every procedure?

My rule is that we don’t proceed until the patient understands and has talked through all of the options.

Was the dentist wearing loupes (surgical telescopes)?

No dentist should be practicing without them.

It has nothing to do with ailing eyesight, it’s the magnification factor that lets you see more than you could with 20/20 vision.

If you can’t see it, you cant treat it!

Ask your dentist if he uses 2.5x or 4.4x power on her loupes. The higher the better! An LED spotlight on the forehead is even better.

Did I feel comfortable?

Trust you gut instincts.

Okay, so how do I pay for this great dentist?

Finding a good, but cheap dentist may be difficult. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never truer in dentistry.

Finding a cheap, low quality dentist will cost you way more in the long run (and even in the short term in some cases) than finding a quality dentist at higher prices.

The overhead in dentistry is high, typically 60 to 70 percent, so there’s very little room for discount, unless the dentist takes shortcuts in different parts in the delivery of service.

Make sure you are paying a fair market fee for quality dentistry, and you will have purchased the best deal and saved lots of money over the years.

How to figure out what’s fair? Compare the fees of four major services among four or five dentists in your area. The services to compare are a cleaning, a crown, root canal, and a recall exam.

That coupon that comes in the mail for $400 worth of dentistry for $39.95 will save you some money up front, but could lead to disaster in the future.

Mark Burhenne DDS

Now, I want to know: how did you find your dentist? Which methods worked and which didn’t when looking for your dentist? Is there anything you would add? Let me know by leaving me a comment below!

Juggling all the pieces of your health is hard...

But I can definitely help with what's going on in your mouth. Leave your email address below, and I'll share 7 Insider Secrets that your dentist probably isn't telling you—and that could be keeping you from optimal oral and dental health.

Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS

52 Comments

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  1. The single most important question to ask a dentist is “Are you on probation or have you been disciplined by the licensing board?” Had I known my dentist was on probation for harming several patients with the procedures he convinced me to agree to I wouldn’t be suffering for the rest of my life with irreparable damage and the need for several more surgeries to address the damage he caused. The Dental Board refuses to post his actual repeated gross negligent conduct and their harmful pattern of failing to provide adequate notice for the public also imposes increased risk on the public and “harm’s way” to the patients in his chair.

    • One needs to check the state dental licensing board themselves to see if the dentist has been disciplined or placed on probation. Also, weighing reviews online of the dentist will give you an idea of what kind of practitioner they are.

  2. I really liked your tip about following your gut instincts when it comes to choosing a dentist. I’ve found that the past couple of dentists that I’ve seen were pretty good, because I felt that they were qualified dentists after talking to them. It’s also important to visit their office and talk to the dentist and their staff about the work that they do. It seems like your gut instinct is right most of the time, so it’s best to pay attention to how comfortable you feel having someone do dental work on you and your family.

  3. I like how you said to follow you instincts when choosing a dentist. No matter how qualified they may be, if you don’t feel comfortable around them, then they might not be the best fit. Going to the dentist is difficult enough without being made more uncomfortable, so it’s important to find someone who will help ease anxiety and nerves.

  4. Thanks for the advice. I have to admit that I am not sure that I would have thought to look for a dentist that looks for the connection of oral health to the rest of the body. That’s not something I would have thought to be concerned about. I just recently moved, so I will definitely have to keep that in mind as I look for a local dentist.

  5. Is my dentist as good as I thought he was?

    I have a situation with trying to get a partial top denture and the insurance company’s dentist differs with my dentist to the point of almost a totally opposite position. Now I’m wondering if (a) my dentist is as “good” as I thought he was and (b) OR is the insurance company just giving me the runaround.

    My Dentist: Thinks it is appropriate to put in a partial top denture now. This is also a free end saddle situation. He says he can make me a partial denture like this and has done it before many times. He does not want to give me a full denture because I have most of my top teeth and he thinks taking all these teeth out and putting a “piece of plastic” in my mouth would be a shame since I am also younger than his typical denture patient.

    Insurance Company Review Dentist: Thinks the only type of denture suitable for me at this point is a full denture. His reasoning is that there is active periodontal disease and that would adversely affect the outcome of putting in a partial denture. I agree that I have gum disease.

    His conclusion is either:

    I get a full denture if I want to do this now OR

    I wait and have the gum disease treated and then he would reassess the situation for putting in a partial denture.

    Of course I would rather get a partial denture now, but I have to give consideration to the insurance company’s dentist’s opinion too. To add to this, of course I don’t trust the insurance company and a dentist who only saw a panoramic x-ray (which he said was too unclear to see anything) and bitewing and periapical x-rays, but he never saw me in person.

    This is a dilemma because I can appeal the HMO decision but I don’t want to waste my time if the insurance company dentist’s opinion is the correct one. I may also have to rethink my choice of dentist.

  6. Dr. Marcos buen día. Soy estudiante de estomatología. He leído con mucho agrado sus consejos. Le agradezco que se tome el tiempo y la dedicación a este espacio. Estoy convencido de lo útil que es para todos incluso estudiantes y médicos. Dios lo bendiga. Un abrazo

    Lima- Perú.

  7. I just moved to a new city, so I’m going to have to find a new dentist to go to. I really liked your tips, and I think that they’re going to help me a lot! I especially liked your tip to ask for recommendations from my friends and family. While I am new to the city, I have a good friend who has been living here for years. His teeth look great, so I’ll be sure to ask him who his dentist is! Hopefully my teeth will look as good as his do! Thank you for the advice!

  8. This is great! My wife and I just moved recently and needing to find a new dentist. I am glad to hear you recommend that we interview the dentist. That would give me much more peace of mind. Are dentists used to meeting with prospective patients?

  9. These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to ask for suggestions from friends or coworkers. My husband and I just moved into a new house, and I need to find a good dentist for us. I’ll definitely ask some people I work with to see if they have any good recommendations. Thanks for the great post!

  10. When I find a really good dentist I never like switching, the only reason I have switched is because I moved to another location. Even then I got a dentist that was recommended to me by my old dentist. More than likely if they recommend someone to you, they’re going to be just as amazing as them. Thanks for the great tips and advice!

  11. I’m moving this summer, so these tips for finding a dentist will come in handy! I never thought to ask my current dentist if they new anyone where I was moving. I will have to check on that before I leave. I’ll also make sure to visit the office before I make an appointment. Thanks for tips!

  12. I thought it was interesting that the dentist should ask about your health in general, not just dental health. Lately, I’ve come to understand that the body is a lot more connected than I thought. I think asking friends and family, as well as colleagues, is one of the best way to find who you’re looking for. They’re not going to let you down.

  13. I had no idea that you could ask to interview the dentist and staff. I’ll have to make sure to do this while I’m trying to find a new dentist. Thanks for the advice about finding an awesome dentist.

  14. This is a great asset in understanding my dental questions. I have been told by my dentist I need a root canal on tooth 22 it would be my first at age 60. My tooth only bothers me when excerting direct pressure on it but the xray shows radiolucency? at its base. I just got an similar 2nd opinion at a Endodontist. My dentist says it will take two visits and the endodontist said one and you could tell he wanted to do it on the spot.My Dentist is experienced but semi retired and said he thought we could avoid need for crown. Endodontist is young and said he leaves that to regular dentist and only does root canal. The cost from the regular dentist seems very high 1200$ and I have no dental insurance-not sure what to do.Could an oral antibiotic adress the apparent infection? Any thoughts on next steps are appreciated.

    • Hi!

      Any history of trauma in that area (front lower teeth)? It does sound like you need a root canal. 1200 seems bit high (molar rates). No crown needed if access to root canal is conservative.

      Antibiotics will not fix, as the infection will return.

      Thanks for being a reader!

      drb

      Dr. Mark Burhenne | AsktheDentist.com Read reviews for The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox Facebook | Twitter | YouTube (408) 737-2100

  15. I didn’t know that there are so many things to consider when looking for a dentist. I think googling a dentist in my area will help narrow down the search. Then I can look up a review on the dentist and see which one do I like.

  16. I like the suggestion to ask your insurance company if you have an out of network option. The list of dentists that you can pick from with your insurance could be very small. Make sure that you are looking at you options to find the best quality dentist for you and your family. Checking reviews and asking around is always a good idea when you are trying to find a new dentist.

  17. The point about ‘whole body health’ really intrigues me. I had no idea that dental problems to could lead to other diseases. It will really pay off to get a dentist who knows what he’s doing. Before when I looked for a dentist I just cared about conversational skills. Now that I know there’s more to it, I’ll be asking much more questions.

  18. Thank you for all this helpful information about choosing a dentist! One thing that really stood out to me is that you say to ask and see where they went to school to get their training. It might be nice to know that they have been to a good school and trained for a certain amount of time to get where they are.

  19. We recently moved in a week ago and we are new to the area. My son, before we moved, has been needing a cavity filled! It was great to know to look at reviews that personally relate a story. I am no expert, but I would imagine some of the reviews will help me where to take my son!

  20. Thanks for sharing this guide. A friend of mine have amalgam fillings on his teeth and he regretted to have those since he realize that it is bad for the health. I think people should also consider to find a dentist that is also concern with their patients safety.

  21. I was happy to know that peers on the web will have something to say about how to find a great dentist. My 5-year-old son fell down at the park and chipped his tooth on the slide. I will be sure to search the web to find a great dentist for him!

  22. I’ve only recently had problems with dental practices. My previous practice was fine but after 2 dentists left in quick succession and I was having concerns about a tooth I went to another office for a second opinion. I really liked this new office and they said I needed a root canal. But, they couldn’t schedule me for 2 months. Since I wasn’t in pain, I made the appointment. But after my procedure, they couldn’t schedule my crown for, again, almost 2 months. Is this normal? Safe? I don’t want to keep hopping practices if this is normal.

  23. This is great information for anybody choosing a dentist. I like that you mentioned to ask your current dentist if he knows any dentists in your new area. My wife and I are moving to a new state, and we would love a recommendation from our current dentist. We will make sure we do this!

  24. My wife and I have recently moved to a new town. She has a history of gum disease in her family, so she’s looking for a good dentist that can help keep her mouth clean. I didn’t realize how important it is to find out what professional organizations a dentist belongs to, and this can help ensure they have the support they need to be great. I’ll be sure to remember this consideration moving forward.

  25. I never thought about finding a dentist who is concerned with the health of your whole body and how it relates to your teeth. I would love to have a dentist who cared about making sure I was totally healthy, and not just worried about fixing problems as they arise. I have been looking for a new dentist since I move out of state. I will definitely ask about this as I look around.

  26. Hi, Dr. Burhenne – Thank you for this great article. I am delighted to hear about the study groups. Appreciate the idea that you meet on a regular basis to refine hands-on clinical work and have a worldwide membership base. Wonder if you can refer me to a dentist in the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village/Agoura Hills area of CA. Feel free to email me. Thanks again for all your insights.

  27. I am on the journey to find a good dentist. I don’t think that I ever had a good one. Mostly, they produced more trouble than good. I don’t trust those I’ve met so far. I feel so frustrated because they just hear what they want and ignore my needs. Sorry, I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend and I need a dentist who informs me about possibility and finds solution I can afford. I had to get a dental procedure done due to an inflammation, and the dentist made a crack through the veneer on the other tooth while doing the procedure. I don’t know. I took care of this veneer for 8 years to keep it healthy. He didn’t even acknowledge it. Despite the money I have to pay for the procedure, I’ll have to spend money for the veneer to in the future. I appreciate the article, but, sometimes, I wonder about the ethics a dentist has and whether they are really interested in creating a trustworthy relationship with me and finding solutions that work for both. I believe in holistic health, and I hope one day I find a good dentist to take care of my teeth. Right now, I am far away from this goal and extremely frustrated.

  28. I like how you suggested asking your current dentist if they know someone in the new area you’ll be moving into. We just moved about a month ago and haven’t needed a dentist yet but we will soon so I think I’ll have to reach out and give him a call to see if he might know someone nearby. I think I could probably ask my insurance agency, family or friends for an opinion on local clinics that would be good for our family to use.

  29. I had an extremely, sore tooth and needed immediate care. Living in a rural area, services are limited, but my daughter suggested a local dentist her coworker frequented. I made an appointment and was seen quickly. The office was modern, pleasant and comfortable.
    My first clue (or “gut-instinct”) something might be awry with the practice was when I was seen–first–by a hygenist, who was not only clumsy and ineffective allaying my fears, but neglected discussing the subject, painful tooth; like, at all! Deep-cleaning was advised. Okay. What’s that? The procedure was explained, and I was told it wouldn’t cost me anything. Wow! The hygenist explained they needed to get my teeth and gums healthy first. Another red flag.
    When the hygenist started working on me, no mask was provided. I was not given the opportunity to see the work (mirror for patient). Red flag.
    Long story short–after the HYGENIST administered anesthetic (allowed in this state, but news to me), my blood-pressure skyrocketed so high, I had the shakes for about 2 hours afterward. I was in extreme pain at the initial treatment, so it was advised we proceed in quadrants. I told the hygenist–SEVERAL TIMES–to stop, due to the terrible, terrible pain (imagine a hot knife, jammed into your skull/jawbone!), but was “poo-pooed.” “Come on now, you can take it; we’ve gotta get through this!” And this, after being told to notify her of any discomfort! I think it was “raise your left hand. ” By the third quadrant, I’d had enough, and was literally shouting at this person she was HURTING me. I went home and contacted the dentist about the treatment immediately.
    The reason for my post is this: the dentist was asked to come in after the first quadrant cleaning. The hygenist polished all surfaces before this happened. It was like camouflage for incomplete/shoddy work, to be fixed later. The hygenist (already) told me I “had cavities.” To the dentist she said “Doctor, she has 5 cavities,” Silence. AWKWARD silence! I looked at her, then at him. The lie hung so heavily in the air, the dentist had to look down at the floor. He even walked me to reception when finished. I didn’t see the other dentists doing this.
    I no longer attend this practitioner. Needless to say, the “5 cavities” I had segued into “3 cracked molars,” which of course, required crowns, times three. I realize dentistry is often viewed as subjective, but come on! Get your story straight, right?
    My advice: FOLLOW YOUR GUT! If it doesn’t feel right, if you’re ignored by the hygenist, if immediate concerns aren’t addressed, find another dentist! This dentist completed the deep cleaning, replete with a replacement hygenist. I think they got scared when they realized the epinephrine (anesthesia) administered was affecting my heart-rate to dangerous, liability levels. The reality: this should never have occurred. Referring to a patient’s chart is a no-brainer. They didn’t refer to the chart!
    My biggest complaint? Everything that was “wrong”–my pain, my ignorance (we’re all modern, but knowing dental codes/jargon isn’t high on my list), my physical symptoms–were ALL blamed on ME, when clearly, the practice was at fault; and accountable.
    Be careful out there!

  30. I like that you mentioned that a good dentist will be focused on your health overall, and not just on your teeth. It makes sense that oral health and overall health are very closely related, so I want a dentist who cares about that fact. I am trying to find a new dentist for my family, because we just moved. I will definitely be asking about this as I search.

  31. Thanks for the tips on finding a good dentist. My family and I need to move this month, so I want to be sure that I find a good office to take my kids to. I’ll take your advice and start my search on Google, to find reviews and things. Since we won’t know anyone in the new neighborhood, that seems like a good thing to start with.

  32. Thanks for the tip about asking your current dentist if they know someone they went to dental school with in the area you’re moving. My family is planning to move to a new city, and I want to find someone who can take care of my kids’ teeth. Maybe I should ask my current dentist if he has any recommendations.

  33. Thanks for your comment about how you should search for a dentist who desires the complete oral health of their patients. I like how you said that they should have positive rewards online as well. My grandmother needs to have false teeth put in her mouth, and she is looking into caring and experienced dentists to perform this task on her.

  34. My wife and I are getting ready to move to a new house. Since we don’t really know the area, we were curious about how you would find the right dentist. One thing that really stood out to me is that you say to go online and see what your peers are saying about that dentist. It would be nice to get an idea of how people like them.

  35. I am still looking. I moved to Orlando 2 1/2 years ago and I am still getting financially defrauded, taken advantage of, conned, robbed….it’s all the same. I am continuing my search this time by looking for dentists listed on the ADA and Florida Department of Health and Florida Board of Dentistry websites and comparing them against my in-network insurance listing. Then I use online searches to attempt to weed out the bad ones. In the meantime, I have also updated my yelp review of the last dentist to let people be aware that they are defrauding their patients. Why would anyone bite the hands that feeds them and especially when online social media makes it so easy to inform and warn others of their deceptive procedures?! There is no logic in it, but rationale seems to go out the window when people start loving money so much and they lose any integrity and common sense they might have had to begin with.

  36. I appreciate your tip to choose a dentist that is insured. Thanks for mentioning how they should be well-reviewed by others who use them too. My husband and I are considering hiring a dentist in our new area because our son has a toothache.

  37. I liked your suggestion to interview the dentist and staff before deciding who to visit. This would be helpful in my opinion since it would easier to feel comfortable with a dentist if given the opportunity to speak with them in person. This is definitely something I’ll do once I move in the next couple of months and will need a good dentist.

  38. me and my mother near good dinners and very hard to find one we don’t have a lot of money and everytime I go to a dentist they would add more money and cheapy is all dentist that way cheating you

  39. It sure got my attention when you suggested asking for the recommendation of friends, relatives, or workmates when it comes to finding a competent dentist, especially if they have experienced undergoing the treatment that I need. I will surely take note of that tip because I am not aware of any good ideas to find a competent dentist. Hopefully, I can rely on your tips in finding a good one to address my frequent toothaches. Thank you!

  40. Since we’ve just moved, my husband and I are wondering how to find the best dentist to clean our teeth. So I like your advice to talk to some of your coworkers and friends for recommendations of dentists that they have actually taken work from. We will definitely have to start our search for a dental service by asking some of our coworkers for referrals.

  41. Thanks for your tip to choose a dentist that is genuinely concerned about your overall health. I also like how you said that they should be professional and involved in other reputable organizations. My father wants to find a well-known and skilled dentist to give him some tooth implants that he needs.

  42. Dental health has also taken a front seat when it comes to prioritizing health. But finding a quality dentist has always been a problem. Your Suggestion is very helpful for us. Thanks for your valuable tips.

  43. You made a great point about looking up the dentist online to see what reviews people have left about them. I have been looking for a dentist after moving to a new are. It would be smart to read reviews because it could help me figure out how long their dental work lasts.

  44. I didn’t know that the right dentist would be concerned not only for your oral health but for the health of the rest of your body. Since my family just moved into a more rural area, we are going to need to find a new dentist. I hope I will be able to find one that my kids love!

  45. I have a cousin who recently had a poor experience visiting a dentist she hadn’t ever met prior to a procedure she needed. It really helped me when you mentioned the importance of feeling trust towards your dentist. If you have met the dentist prior, you should make sure you feel safe in their presence. You did a great job of explaining all necessary precautions you can take before choosing a great dentist.

  46. I agree that the right dentist will be concerned about oral health as a whole as it relates to the rest of your health, like you said. I like that you also said they will be able to teach you how your oral health affects heart disease or diabetes. Dental hygiene is an important aspect of overall health.

  47. I thought it was interesting how you suggest interviewing the dentist and staff. I had no idea you could do this! I’ll definitely try this tip out once I move next month to help me find a reputable and experienced dentist.

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