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The Ultimate Guide to Finding an Awesome Dentist

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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!

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Dr. Mark Burhenne DDS

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