informed dental consumerFairport, Pittsford, and Rochester, NY

A colleague shared this story with me recently. He reported that a good friend called him to ask for a referral to a new dentist. Apparently, the patient’s dentist had retired at the age of 85. My colleague’s reply was that the patient should consider the dentist who acquired the retiring dentist’s patients. The new dentist was young, highly educated, had an up-to-date office, and many credentials and certifications from several important accrediting bodies in the field of dentistry. The patient’s reply, “I would prefer a dentist close to my home.” The irony here is that the new dentist was a whopping four miles from her home v. the one mile away the retiring dentist was.
Unable to convince the patient to reconsider, my colleague provided the names of several dentists located within two or three miles of the patient’s home. Does this story shock you? I find it surprising that the criteria for selection of a dentist are not credentials and capabilities of the provider, but the geographic location! Is a mile or two of additional driving really a factor in decision-making? Apparently yes—at least for this patient. I cannot help but wonder how it all worked out for the patient. Was the dentist selected on the basis of location really the best choice? I will never know…nor will the patient.
So what is a patient to do? Ask smart questions—a few of which are below:

  1. What are your areas of specialization? Some dentists are best suited for treating certain conditions or doing certain procedures. It makes sense to understand your dentist’s areas of expertise.
  2. Does your office offer digital x-rays? Digital radiography reduces exposure to radiation to a fraction of traditional film-based x-rays. If the office doesn’t, you need to know and should care.
  3. Will you show me ways to improve my homecare and prevent dental disease? If you perceive that your dentist is all about “patch and fill,” then you may want to find another office as prevention and saving teeth is what modern-day dentistry is all about.
  4. Can you share with me an example of a treatment plan? A written plan detailing the treatment plan for a given condition is essential—at least in my office and it should be in every other office.
  5. What technology does your office employ to ensure a quality of care? Dentistry today is flush with outstanding tools and technologies for treating patients—technology that can proactively detect cavities, reduce chair time, make common procedures virtually painless and improve the patient experience. Even if you’re not familiar with the fancy names given to this technology, look up on the Internet what you learn.

There are many more questions than aforementioned that smart patients should ask, but these five are a good start. Of course, the selection of a dentist or the acceptance of a treatment plan should be conditioned on each patient’s unique oral health needs. So, knowledge is power and a great dentist won’t mind the smart questions.

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