A female dentist in her office

What to Look for in a General Dentist

The ideal dentist is a partner in you and your family's oral health. They will be tracking your family history, ensuring you get regular checkups, professional cleanings, and taking care of dental 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 many capacities, and if they've had special training beyond dental school, they may have a particular dental specialty. For example, pediatric dentists are experts in working with children, whereas periodontists focus on gum, bone, and periodontal care. Both of these dentists have received either their DDS or DMD, which, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), results from the same education level. In any case, you should see a general dentist for regular checkups,  professional cleanings, and maintaining regular dental care.

General Dentists

A general dentist knows your patient history, educates you on daily hygiene, and can provide the most common dental services in-office. Your general 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, bridges, or dentures – along with emergency procedures and cavity care as needed. Suppose it's a minor or common procedure. In that case, your general 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.

Specialty Dentists

There are times when your general 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 oral care. Specialty dentists focus on dental issues beyond standard care. Dental specialists receive additional training on specialties above and beyond their general dentistry degree. Specialists are necessary when you encounter problems that a general dentist can't address, like those due to heredity, overall health issues, or an accident.

Suppose your child is incredibly nervous, for instance. In that case, your dentist may direct you to a pediatric dentist who practices sedation dentistry or takes an approach that is better suited for younger patients. Suppose your teeth are damaged and you need extensive cosmetic work. In that case, your general dentist could 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 general 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, including an up-to-date skillset.
  • Schedule a checkup. Because it's impossible to evaluate a dentist without meeting him or her, book this new patient appointment, which many dentists offer for free or at a discount for new patients. Get to know the dentist, ask questions about fluoride use, and handle emergency procedures.

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. Still, they won't all be the perfect fit for you and your family. By patiently identifying the differences in each professional, you can choose someone to work with who you feel comfortable giving a place on your family's calendar to give you years of healthy teeth and smiles.

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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