Choosing Your New Dentist
How to Simplify Your Search
by Susan Flowers
Choosing Your New Dentist How to Simplify Your Search by Susan Flowers Newcomers to the Atlanta area have a seemingly endless list of tasks, from arranging for utilities to finding new resources for shopping and home maintenance. Among the crucial chores that could easily be neglected in those busy first few weeks: choosing a new dentist.
That’s a task that no one should put off. Care of the teeth and gums is important for the overall health of children and adults—but finding the right professional for you and your family can be more complicated than it looks. Fortunately, the Georgia Dental Society and the Georgia Dental Association have a few guidelines that can simplify your search.
According to Dr. Jay Harrington, president of the Georgia Dental Association (GDA), your search for a new dentist can begin with your previous provider, even if he or she is located in another part of the country. “Many times, dentists have colleagues throughout the nation and can make a recommendation,” he says. “Asking family, friends, neighbors or co-workers for recommendations is another source.” The GDA has a free referral service and can suggest dentists in your area, he adds, noting that GDA member dentists voluntarily agree to abide by the ethical standards reflected in the American Dental Association’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct as a condition of membership.
The incoming vice president of the Georgia Dental Society, Charles King, Jr., DMD, agrees that the GDA is a valuable resource, and notes a few other places to look as well, including your local Chamber of Commerce, the internet and the yellow pages.
Checking Out Your Potential Dentist Of course, once you have a recommendation or two, you’ll still want to check the background of your potential dentist. Knowing more about a professional’s education and experience can help you to have confidence in your care.
Your first stop should be the website of the Georgia Secretary of State, www.sos.ga.gov. You can check to be sure that a dentist has an upto- date license, and any disciplinary actions taken by the Georgia Board of Dentistry against your potential provider in the past several years will be listed there. The board, made up of nine dentists, one dental hygienist and a consumer advocate, sets standards for safe dental practices in the state and ensures that professionals follow those standards by sanctioning those who fail to meet them or lack the appropriate qualifications.
Once you’ve determined that your new dentist is licensed and hasn’t been disciplined in recent years, you can contact the GDA to learn more. According to Harrington, the organization can tell consumers where a provider was educated and how many years he or she has practiced. If you want additional information, King suggests checking out the many independent websites on which patients can rate and comment on health care providers.
Just as with any other profession, dentistry’s knowledge base and best practices are constantly evolving, and your new dentist should be up to speed on the latest information and training, Georgia requires that dentists complete a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education every two years, with at least 20 of those hours acquired at an on-site course or seminar. King recommends that you seek a dentist whose continuing education credits exceed the minimum. He also suggests that you check to see if your potential dentist is a member of a reputable professional organization such as the GDA, the Georgia Dental Society or the American Dental Association.
The Right Dentist for You Basic information about your dentist is important, but your search shouldn’t stop there. Among the many factors you should consider when making your choice, Harrington lists the following:
- Is the location convenient?
- Do the hours or appointment schedule work within your availability?
- How are emergencies handled outside of normal business hours?
- Is the office clean, neat and orderly?
- Does the dentist explain the proposed treatment and other issues related to your overall oral health?
- Is information provided about the fees and payment options?
For many patients, establishing a rapport with a health care provider is as significant as any other factor related to their care. King says that a good relationship is just as important to your new dentist: “It is absolutely imperative to have a good rapport with any health care provider. Good relationships produce better results. As health care providers, we always want to give our best to whomever walks through our doors; even more so, we want to form lasting relationships that enable our patients to feel confident and secure that their lives are in great hands. Honestly, it keeps them coming back.”
Harrington agrees that, while not a critical factor for every patient, for most, communication and a good rapport are vital. “Dental care is a very personal type of health care, and it would seem that having a good rapport with your dentist would be important,” he says. “Communication is one of the important components of good rapport. Effective communication, which should go not only from the dentist to the patient but also from the patient to the dentist, is critical to providing optimal patient care. However, some patient personality types may not be as concerned with having immediate rapport with their dentist.”
A truly great dentist, King believes, is one who sees beyond the bottom line to the needs of the larger community. He says that a good dentist is also a teacher, continuously sharing knowledge with patients and their families. “An outstanding dentist, in my opinion, is one who gives his or her best for the benefit of his or her patients every single day, no matter what the procedure, no matter what the cost,” he says. “An outstanding dentist should balance his or her desire to profit with the desire to eliminate any orofacial disease, even if it means having to accept a smaller fee or no fee at all.”
Affordability The best intentions of dentists aside, finding affordable care can be a challenge in these difficult economic times. Harrington emphasizes that along with regular brushing and flossing, obtaining dental care for you and your family is a must—even if it requires a small amount of budgetary juggling.
Those whose employers provide dental coverage are in the best position, of course, but there are options for those without dental insurance as well. Most providers now accept credit cards, and many offer outside monthly financing programs, according to Harrington. King mentions CreditCare as one possibility for a no-interest payment plan.
Researching fees prior to your visit is critical if you have little or no coverage, and here, several factors play a part, according to King: “Dental practices can set their own fees, but those fees are usually competitive according to what is usual and customary in that particular state or region. But common sense does come into play. A dentist with a brand new facility may or may not charge higher fees to refer building costs to the consumer. A dentist with higher credentials such as a Master’s degree or a recognized degree of accomplishment amongst their peers, such as found in the Academy of General Dentistry, may charge higher fees as well. Where the dental office is located, whether in an urban or rural setting, may also play a factor. However, no assumptions should be made. Consumers should ask an office representative directly for information on dental fees.” Harrington suggests asking for an estimate on full-mouth x-rays and a preventive dental visit that includes an oral examination and teeth cleaning.
For those who are truly having a difficult time affording care and are eligible, options for children include Medicaid and the state-funded PeachCare for Kids. Adults can check with the GDA for a list of private community health centers and volunteer clinics which offer care free of charge or on a sliding scale, according to Harrington. Your local health department may also offer options for dental care.
Tips for Parents
While a general practitioner can usually provide excellent care for your entire family, some parents may wish to consider a pediatric dentist, or a dentist who specializes in the care of children. Pediatric dentist staffs are especially prepared to make your children feel comfortable during their visits. Such offices usually are equipped with toys, video games, televisions, bright decorations and the like to keep young patients entertained and eager to come back.
King says that a pediatric dentist may be especially important in the case of rampant dental decay or pathology that may have to be treated in a hospital setting. Keep in mind, he adds, that as a specialist, a pediatric dentist may charge higher fees than a general practitioner.
Harrington reminds parents that every child should have an initial dental visit when the first tooth appears—no later than the first birthday.
What If You Need a Specialist?
If you need a pediatric dentist or any other kind of dental specialist, both King and Harrington suggest getting referrals from your general practitioner. But King says that if a consumer chooses to go directly to a specialist, they may search the yellow pages or the internet, or they may contact a specialist organization, such as the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO) or the American Organization of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS). Those who would like more information on the various categories of dental specialties can consult a brochure available from the GDA as well as the website of the American Dental Association.
For more information on dentistry in Georgia and around the nation, you can visit the following:
American Dental Association • www.ada.org
Georgia Dental Association • www.gadental.org
Georgia Dental Society • www.georgiadentalsociety.org
Georgia’s Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids programs • dch.georgia.gov
Georgia Secretary of State • www.sos.ga.gov