Looking for a new dentist?
Realistically, most people do not want to be hopping from dentist to dentist. Not many people have the time nor the money to schedule a series of new patient exams with dentist after dentist until they find that one special office that best suits their values, needs and expectations.
Let’s discuss some of the research you can do ahead of time to bring you one step closer to your ideal dental family:
You probably already have a good idea of the kind of dentist and office you are looking for. Making a list of your expectations and questions will be handy when you begin to make your inquiries. If your community has many dentists, you can narrow down your choices to those who meet your criteria in terms of location, hours of operation, payment policies, services etc. You may be able to accomplish this using the advertisements in a telephone directory or online. Record your information in a table-like format so you can review your information easily.
2. Word of Mouth
The advice of trusted family and friends should not be overlooked as it’s usually one of the most credible forms of recommendations. Not only are they concerned about your well-being, but they put their own reputation on the line when they endorse a dentist. They will be able to answer many of your questions beforehand and relate the experience they have had. Perhaps, they won’t mind coming along with you to visit the office and “meet” the dental team.
3. The 10 Thousand Hour Rule
We have great dental schools in Canada where dental students complete years of intense study including extensive, clinical work on patients. Patients have the right to a standard of care concerning the knowledge, care, skill and judgment of a practitioner. With that being said, many hours go into refining one’s technical and human relation skills with true mastery sometimes taking years to perfect. It is important to understand that, while there are certain standards of care that we can and should expect all dentists to possess, their styles of communication and personality will vary as could treatment options.
Knowledge, care, skill and judgment evolves over a professional’s life. If the number of years a dentist has been practicing is an important issue for you, then make that enquiry when you call the office. Some offices have a team of dentists providing care and patients may rotate among those dentists. Aside from emergency care, if you would like to see one particular dentist only, then make this clear to the staff and dentist upfront to avoid any surprises.
One can never underestimate the power of communication, especially pre-treatment communication. Never be satisfied to be only handed a dental brochure to detail recommended treatment. You are unique and the information provided to you must contain specific-to-you risks, benefits and alternatives. Over time, we have learned that most patients appreciate when a dentist uses plain language with familiar words and short sentences. The use of good, clear communication should never be an afterthought. Most misunderstandings arise when there is a difference between what the dental team is intending to say and how a patient interprets the information.
In the province of Ontario, patients should expect that dental treatment be performed only after they have received enough facts to make an informed decision, have had the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers, have had challenging information clarified and then have consented to the recommended procedure.
5. Trust and Compliance
The relationship you establish with your new dentist and team will hopefully be a long and healthy one, so your level of trust and comfort is essential in creating a bond that will help you obtain and maintain good oral health for life. You must feel comfortable to ask questions and trust that the dentist is listening, explaining things well and delivering dental care to the best of their ability.
If there are trust issues between you and your dentist you may end up always questioning the care you receive and be unlikely to follow through with agreed-upon home care directions or any treatment recommendations. This can compromise both your current and future oral health.
The 3 Phase Visitation Process
Your First Visit
Your first visit should not be an appointment. Instead, visit the office by telephone then follow-up with an in-office inspection. It should always be okay to approach a new dental office with your inquiries. How else are you going to get the answers that you are searching for?
You can begin with a telephone call asking if they are accepting new patients and then ask about their office policies with regard to payments, dental insurance, hours of operation, services provided and transfer of records. What arrangements are made for handling emergencies outside of office hours? Are children welcomed?
How did you feel about this first encounter? Did you feel welcomed or rushed? Were they enthusiastic and informative or reserved and vague. Perhaps they have a website you can visit.
The Second Visit
Prepare some questions and follow-up next with an office visit. A good office will be proud to show off their office and look forward to answering your questions.
How did you feel when you walked inside? Did you have the sense of comfortable surroundings and cleanliness? Were they willing to show you around and were they patient and knowledgable when answering your questions? Was the staff excited to meet you? Consider it a bonus that, if time and schedule permits, you are able to meet one of the dentists. Take home some office brochures, their business card and hopefully, a positive feeling about your overall experience so far.
If you feel that this may be the dental team you’ve been searching for, you are now ready to make your New Patient appointment. Your new office may have you sign a “Record Release” form so that they can retrieve your dental history and any pertinent x-rays from your former dentist. Records are transferred back and forth between dental offices everyday, so this should be a routine procedure.
Since the new dentist will likely bill for a new patient “complete exam” on your first visit, ensure that you know the limitations of your dental benefits. Some insurance companies will only pay for a complete exam every 3-5 years, so you may want to make sure. Have your insurance information ready when you call to schedule your first appointment in case they ask you for this information ahead of time. As a courtesy, some offices will call your insurer to get an overall summary of what your plan covers so that they will have some idea of your level of dental coverage.
This is your “New Patient” appointment and is the information gathering visit! Try to arrive 10-15 minutes before your scheduled time just to get any paper work out of the way such as insurance information and the completion of your medical/dental history form. During your first visit, your medical/dental care history will be reviewed. You may have already discussed some of your current medical/dental health with the staff/dentist already, but you will now have the opportunity to elaborate further. During the clinical exam your mouth and teeth will be inspected and the information gathered will be recorded in your patient chart. X-rays may be necessary in order to examine the parts of your teeth and bone that the eye cannot see.
If any treatment is advised, recommendations will likely be presented to you at this time. Your dentist will educate you on your current oral conditions and treatment options. Establishing open and honest dialogue right from the beginning is mutually beneficial for you and the dental team. If there is something specific that you would like to discuss, express your concerns as clearly and as truthful as possible. Informing the dentist about why you chose to switch offices is equally important so that expectations can also be discussed.
Hopefully, this first appointment has reaffirmed your choice and you are happy to be finally part of your new dental family. There is one last thing we should discuss ~ Commitment!
The Final Commitment
Commitment is a two-way street. In order for a good dentist/patient relationship to work, there has to be mutual respect where both parties accept certain obligations or duties. If you are receiving outstanding service and you value the care that your dentist is providing you can honour this commitment by:
- Being respectful to staff and other patients
- Arrive on time for your reserved appointment or give sufficient notice to change an appointment in order that this time can be offered to another patient in need.
- Provide accurate and complete information about your health, including medications and past or present medical problems and to report any changes in your health status.
- Inform the office of any changes to your dental insurance.
- Follow mutually agreed-upon treatment recommendations given by your dental care provider.
- Let your dentist or team member know when you do not understand information about your care so that they can have an opportunity to explain further.
- Inform your dentist if you are not satisfied with any aspect of your care.
- Pay promptly for treatment you have already received.
At Your Smile Dental Care, we encourage our patients to take a partnership approach with us to ensure that their dental experiences are always of mutual respect, trust and commitment. We hope that the relationship you establish with your new dentist and team will be a long and healthy one ~ after all, your teeth are for life!
Yours In Better Dental Health,
The Your Smile Dental Care Team