Whether you've just moved into a new area or acquired new dental insurance, rest assured there's no shortage of dental practices who'd love to treat you. But even if there's a dentist on every corner, it's not about quantity. It's about quality, particularly when looking for a general dentist to suit your needs.
A partner in your family's oral health, the ideal dentist will be tracking your family history, ensuring you get regular checkups and taking care of emergencies that crop up when you least expect them. Ready to find your next dentist? Make sure he or she fulfills the following requirements and puts you at ease.
General vs. Specialty
Dentists operate in a number of capacities, and if they've had special training past dental school, they may have a particular specialty. Pediatric dentists, for example, are experts in techniques for working with children, whereas periodontists focus on gum and tissue care. Both have received either their DDS or DMD, which the American Dental Association (ADA) clarifies are the result of the same level of education. In any case, regular checkups and maintenance demand a general dentist who knows your patient history, educates you on daily hygiene and can provide the most common services in-office.
Teaching through the Specialty
Your family dentist should also be concerned with patient education and healthy habits to ensure checkups go smoothly in the future. Dentists who specialize in general care can offer select restorative services – such as crowns – along with emergency procedures and cavity care as needed. If it's a minor or common procedure, your family dentist should be the one to guide you through the process, make you feel confident about it and help you learn how to care for your smile at home.
Referrals When You Need Them
There are times, however, when your regular dentist should refer you to a specialist for procedures that cannot be done in-office. In these instances, another dental specialist would be better equipped to handle your care. If your child is especially nervous, for instance, your dentist may direct you to a pediatric dentist who practices sedation dentistry or takes an approach that is perfect for younger patients. Or, if your teeth are damaged and you need extensive cosmetic work, the dentist should be willing to refer you to a cosmetic dentist for more in-depth treatment. A good general dentist knows when to refer patients and when to treat them personally.
Choosing a Dentist
You know what makes a good family dentist, but that's only half the battle. Do your homework and you'll be able to find a dentist that makes you feel at ease and in control of your oral health no matter what condition you might be grappling with. Consider these tips for matching yourself with a great general dentist:
- Ask friends and family. Referrals are an excellent way to find a dentist that patients love. Your friends and family can give you an objective idea of different dentists in the area, including their strengths and weaknesses.
- Check their credentials. Make sure any dentist you consider is a member of the ADA, which holds its members to five ethical standards of patient care – an up-to-date skillset among them.
- Schedule a checkup. Because it's impossible to evaluate a dentist without meeting him or her, book this introductory appointment, which many dentists offer for free or at a deep discount for new patients. Get to know the dentist, ask questions about things like fluoride use and how he would handle emergency procedures. Many dentists offer a token of good faith for scheduling a first appointment, such as a sample of Colgate Total® Whitening Toothpaste, just for taking the time to come into the office.
Choosing a dentist means choosing a partner in oral health, so it shouldn't be done lightly. Most metropolitan areas have an abundance of dentists available, but they won't all be the perfect fit for you and your family. By patiently identifying the differences in each professional, you can work with someone who has a place on your family's calendar for years of healthy teeth and smiles.