Choosing a dentist requires diligence! There are great dentists out there, and there are some hacks – you need to learn how to tell the difference. THAT is a purpose of this site!
Organization of this Chapter
You May Skip to Whatever Subject Interests You Now
Bottom Line for Selection of a Dentist
Choosing a Dentist: Basics
As seen in the last chapter, you may have a limited choice of a dentist, if you purchase an insurance plan. For a PPO plan, you have lots of choices, but for an HMO type plan they will be more limited. Here, I will assume that you want to find the best dentist you can, irrespective of fees or coverage.
When I discuss dentistry in the community with my students, many of whom are working in dental offices, I always pose the question to THEM as to how to find a good dentist. You would think that they would have a pretty good idea, being in the field, and often working in offices.
Unfortunately, most of my students have the idea that many dentists out there do compromised work – either deliberately, or through lack of skill or knowledge. This is clearly a sad state of affairs, and I am hoping that THIS WEBSITE will have some impact on changing that situation, by forcing these dentists to behave more honestly.
But my students don’t know where to go to find a good dentist!
So how could you?
Choosing a Dentist: Dental Study Clubs
Google “Dental Study Clubs” – and you will see a listing of organizations that dentists join because they are interested in learning more. Some are very specific, and some are more general. Some invite speakers in to teach some method they have developed, and some are clinically based, where the members bring patients in every month and do dentistry in collaboration.
When I was graduated from dental school, the first thing I did was join the closest branch of the Richard V. Tucker, Cast Gold Study Club. I wanted to take what I knew about gold restorations to the next level. The club I joined had about 12 members and we did dentistry every month, under the guidance of a mentor that flew down from Seattle, where Dick Tucker started the study club decades earlier.
Any member of a Tucker Study Club is dedicated to the quality of what they provide their patients. Whether they are doing porcelain in the practice, or conservative and esthetic gold, they are driven to do the best.
I have recommended many people to dentists that are in these clubs across the nation.
Look around and you will be surprised what you can find. Don’t think of a dentist as just a dentist – we are definitely NOT all the same. As discussed in the chapter on the Skills of Dentistry, not everyone has the best skills, but most will have skills adequate to do restorations that will last the expected lifetime. Some, even without the greatest natural skills, will strive to do the best dentistry they can by getting together with like-minded colleagues to learn more.
You can look on any Study Club website and see the members of every chapter, and the chances are that anyone you see there is someone that you could feel confident in doing a good job for you.
Dental Laboratories as Resources
This idea is a little more interesting because you really have to invest some time and effort in the search, but it is easy to find someone who knows who are the best dentists in the community.
The laboratory technician. They look at every clients dentistry every day. They see the impressions and look at the models of the preparations done on teeth for a variety of restorations. They know the truth of the matter.
Now – how do you get them to TELL you?
That is another issue, and I’m not sure I can give you a simple way to get that information from them. You could approach the laboratory as an interested person who would like to see how a dental lab works. You could call and tell them you are interested in the possibility of becoming a technician (if you are younger), or financing a laboratory (if you are older) – but you are just starting out to investigate the field and thought it would be great to talk with someone knowledgeable. It would, of course, be best if you could possibly MEAN it so you don’t have to lie about it.
Maybe you’re just curious about what lab technicians do.
And, then again, maybe you are just doing your homework to find the better dentists in the area, and you are hoping that they can help – knowing that there are privacy issues involved. They, of course, might be much more willing to recommend their favorite dentist instead of telling you who are NOT the best.
You might even go to the lab and meet with someone and see some of the cases that are there in trays awaiting the work to be done – you might get around to mentioning that you will be having some expensive dental work done soon and thought you could take a look at some cases and see who did good work.
Given your study of this site, perhaps you will have some idea as to what to look for. The die for a crown made from an impression in the patient’s mouth should be COMPLETE – showing margins all the way around. If it does not, you are not interested in that dentist. If the margins are clear and the taper of the preparation seems like the crown won’t fall off and the walls are tall enough, maybe that is a dentist with some skills.
Will the technician or owner tell you who did the work?
All you can do at the end is tell them the situation honestly and see how they respond. They will undoubtedly recognize the problem and may well be sympathetic to someone really trying hard to get some good work done – certainly you will be very unusual in that respect.
Here’s one of the things that labs know – they know that when a dentist sends in an impression that is not complete and they call the dentist to tell them an accurate crown cannot be made – they know they HATE when the dentist says “just do the best you can”! It’s impossible, but do the best you can?
What you Don’t Do When Choosing a Dentist
Don’t ask your friends! They will undoubtedly tell you that they LOVE their dentist. He gets them in quickly, he is painless, and he knows the names of their pets and kids. He is the NICEST guy in the world.
I had a dentist friend years ago that was thought of that way – and I thought he was a great guy as well. I didn’t know any better until I had a discussion with MY dental lab, where I sent my work. This friend sent his work to the same place, and eventually the technician had to refuse to take any more of his cases because they caused too much trouble.
The problem is that it IS great when your dentist is comforting and friendly. But, if you have to come back in three years to have the filling replaced, when it should have lasted for 15 – that makes a big difference.
The best dentist that I have ever known was quite taciturn. He had very little in terms of “chair side manner” – but he was a very skilled operator. His patients had all the faith in the world in his abilities and didn’t really need to be “glad handed” to know they were in good hands.
Choosing a Dentist: Dental Schools as Resources
If there is a dental school near you, you just might consider having your work done there. Yes – by students – but they are closely monitored and everyone is taking great care to see that you get the best treatment.
When I was a first-year student I had a cusp break and needed a crown. I stumbled across a senior dental student and asked if he would do the crown. I had NO idea how good he was, and didn’t actually think to investigate whether he was at the top of the class or the bottom.
Turns out, he was at the bottom of the class! He was coached through the procedure, as all students are, and needed a little more help than most, but got the job done. I still have that crown sitting comfortably in my mouth thirty years later!
And I’ve had crowns done by experienced practitioners that were more careless than they should be, and have had to have them replaced, sometimes in as few as five years.
In the dental school you can have work done at far less cost than for a private practice, but it takes a little more time. If you have the time and are interested in a learning experience, and would like to see a dedicated student struggle with one of the most challenging episodes of their young life, the dental school may be for you.
On the other hand, you could simply check online to see the faculty of the dental school, perhaps in the Restorative Dentistry Department. In general, a faculty member will also have a private practice, and it is no guarantee, but you will probably get an honest and ethical dentist by going to them. And, if selected wisely, you might get a great dentist.
You could observe in the school as a student does some work for you. If you see a faculty member that the students stay clear of because he/she is so demanding, maybe you should see if they have a private practice nearby! Good dentistry is VERY demanding, and that sounds like a good fit.
You may have some restrictions because of any insurance coverage you might have, but a dental school might accept that insurance.
Choosing a Dentist: Bottom Line
LOOK around. Don’t assume all dentists are good. I REALLY hate to say that, but I have to be truthful. There are ways for you to do your homework, and if you have a treatment plan that someone is suggesting that will cost you $10,000 – take your TIME so that money is not wasted.
Time well spent.