Choosing a Dentist


What To Look for in a Dentist
Take your time choosing a dentist; don't wait for an emergency! There are several things to consider when looking for a dentist.

Location and office hours– Choose a dentist close to home or work. This will make it easier to schedule visits and to arrive on time. Also, make sure that the dental office is open on the days and at the times when you are able to schedule an appointment.

Cost–Does the dentist accept your insurance? Does the dentist offer multiple payment options (credit cards, personal checks, payment plans)? If your insurance plan requires referrals to specialists, can this dentist provide them?

Also, be aware that costs vary by practice. If you can, get estimates of what your dentist might charge for common procedures such as fillings, crowns or root canal therapy. Even if you have dental insurance, you may be paying part of the costs yourself.

Personal comfort–One of the most important things to consider when you choose a dentist is whether you feel comfortable with that person. Are you able to explain symptoms and ask questions? Do you feel like the dentist hears and understands your concerns? Would you feel comfortable asking for pain medicine, expressing your fear or anxiety, or asking questions about a procedure?

Professional qualifications–The dentist's office should be able to tell you about the dentist's training. The office also should have policies on infection control. If the staff seems uncomfortable answering your questions, or you are uncomfortable with their answers, consider finding another dentist. You can also obtain information about a dentist's qualifications from the local dental society or your insurance carrier. Most organizations of specialty dentists also list their members and qualifications.

Emergency care–Find out what happens if you have an emergency, either during normal office hours, or at night or on a weekend. A dentist should not refer you to a hospital emergency room. You should be able to contact your dentist (or a suitable substitute) at any time by calling an answering service, cell phone or pager.

State licensing boards–Most state dental boards have a website where you can verify if your dentist is licensed. The website also should tell you whether there have been any disciplinary actions taken against him or her.

How To Find a Dentist
Here are some suggestions on finding dentists to evaluate.

People to ask:

  • Your friends and family — Friends and family members are a great resource. They can tell you about the personality of the dentist and office staff, and answer questions. Here are some good questions to ask:
    • How well does the dentist explain treatment options?
    • How long do you have to sit in the waiting room?
    • Do you feel comfortable asking questions?
    • How does the office handle emergencies?
    • How long do you have to wait for an appointment?
    • How are bills handled?
  • Your current dentist — If you are moving, ask your current dentist if he or she knows of someone to recommend near your new home.
  • Your physician — Your physician may be able to provide some names of dentists.

Places to call:

  • Your dental insurance company — Your insurer will provide names and contact information for dentists in your area who take part in the company's dental plans. Usually you will have to pay a lower fee if you use these dentists. Your insurer also may have other information, such as whether the dentist accepts new patients.
  • Your state's dental association — Each state has a dental association that can provide names of dentists who are members of the American Dental Association (ADA). ADA membership is voluntary. Most dentists are members. However, ADA membership does not mean a higher quality of care.
  • Your local hospital – Some hospitals have their own dental clinics, or can recommend local dentists.
  • The nearest dental school —A dental school in your area can be a great resource. Most dental schools have clinics that accept new patients. The care given at these clinics is excellent. The cost is often lower than visiting a private-practice dentist. Usually, routine care at a dental school clinic is provided by dental students and residents (dentists who are completing advanced training). They are supervised by dentists who teach at the dental school. For complicated and newer procedures, these clinics offer state-of-the-art care. Check our list of dental schools in the United States and Canada to see if there's one near you.

Besides all of these possibilities, you can check the yellow pages or be alert for advertisements.

Dental Schools

University of Alabama, Birmingham

Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, Mesa

Loma Linda University
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Francisco
University of the Pacific, San Francisco
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

University of Colorado, Denver

University of Connecticut, Farmington

District of Columbia
Howard University

Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale
University of Florida, Gainesville

Medical College of Georgia, Augusta

University of Illinois at Chicago
Northwestern University, Chicago
Southern Illinois University, Alton

Indiana University, Indianapolis

University of Iowa, Iowa City

University of Kentucky, Lexington
University of Louisville

Louisiana State University, New Orleans

University of Maryland, Baltimore

Boston University
Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston
Tufts University, Boston

University of Detroit
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

University of Mississippi, Jackson

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Creighton University, Omaha
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

New Jersey
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Newark

New York
Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, New York
New York University
University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
Stony Brook University (State University of New York)

North Carolina
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Ohio State University, Columbus
Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City

Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
University of Pittsburgh
Temple University, Philadelphia

Puerto Rico
University of Puerto Rico, San Juan

South Carolina
Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston

Meharry Medical College, Nashville
University of Tennessee, Memphis

Baylor College of Dentistry, Dallas
University of Texas Health Sciences Center (UTHSC), Houston
University of Texas Health Sciences Center (UTHSC), San Antonio

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

University of Washington, Seattle

West Virginia
West Virginia University, Morgantown

Marquette University, Milwaukee

University of Alberta, Edmonton
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia
University of Toronto
University of Western Ontario, London
Université Laval, Sainte-Foy, Quebec
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec
Université de Montreal, Quebec
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon


© 2002- 2017 Aetna, Inc. All rights reserved.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What To Expect During a DENTAL VISIT

On your first visit, your dentist will take a full health history. On follow-up visits, if your health status has changed, make sure to tell your dentist. Here’s what you can expect during most trips to the dentist.

  • A Thorough Cleaning – a dental hygienist or dentist will scrape along and below the gum line to remove built-up plaque and tartar that can cause gum disease, cavities, bad breath and other problems. Then he or she will polish and floss your teeth.

  • A Full Dental Examination – your dentist will perform a thorough examination of your teeth, gums and mouth, looking for signs of disease or other problems.

  • X-Rays – X-rays can diagnose problems otherwise unnoticed, such as damage to jawbones, impacted teeth, abscesses, cysts or tumors, and decay between the teeth.