Finding a Good Dentist is All about Asking the Right Questions
“An educated consumer is our best customer.” So said Sy Syms as he built a retail clothing empire by attracting a more “sophisticated” buyer by differentiating between cheap goods with low prices and a higher quality product fairly priced with greater value. Syms’ clothing stores no longer exist since their bankruptcy in 2009, but the concept of a knowledgeable well informed consumer couldn’t be more important today than perhaps ever before, especially in the area of healthcare including (of course) dentistry. Buying a bad suit in which the fabric unravels after just a few trips to the dry cleaners leaves one feeling annoyed and ripped off. How to find a good dentist may require a little bit of work, but receiving poor quality dental care can leave you not just with a lighter wallet but with compromised health, compromised function and compromised appearance.
Ignorance is not bliss and while the primary responsibility of a dentist to his or her patients is to be an educator (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…) there are many people who do not see a dentist regularly and many people who don’t see a dentist at all except of course when an emergency arises. So what’s a person to do if dental needs or wants come up and uncertainty about what to do or who to see leads to procrastination? Even though information is readily available through Internet searches, it can be confusing and reading forums can lead to a self-diagnosis that can be a slippery slope to even greater problems. I have been the recipient of many queries from all over the country via my blog (I have gotten as many as 9,000 visits in a single month) and am no longer surprised by the scope of the questions I am asked about various dental topics.)
An enquiring mind is a very positive attribute because decisions involving health should be based on knowledge. And knowledge can be empowering in finding a good dentist, especially for those who have greater dental needs and/or dental anxiety.
The 4 Questions to Ask to Find a Good Dentist
To be an educated dental consumer it is so important to keep these 4 questions in mind:
1. WHO is going to care for you?
2. WHAT are your dental needs?
3. HOW will your dental problems or concerns be addressed?
4. WHY does a particular procedure need to be done?
Who is going to care for you is a primary concern. Finding a caring and proficient dentist who is the right fit for you may involve some homework. I believe that personal referrals are among the best sources when seeking out a new dentist yet there is a veritable fountain of information about potential candidates just a keystroke away. Even when referred by a friend or family member, most people will go online to check him or her out before making their first appointment.
Checking out a doctor’s website can give you much insight into his or her scope and style of practice as well as the atmosphere of care. More than a few new patients who have come to me by way of the web have commented on how familiar and welcoming my office and staff are “as if they’ve been here before.” That’s because I tried to capture the essence of who we are, what we do and how we do it on my website. A dentist’s website can reveal much about the practice. When you meet the doctor, you shouldn’t be shy about asking questions. It is not uncommon to schedule a separate “consultation” visit if need be. Establishing comfortable rapport is an important part of the doctor/patient relationship.
And, the amount of available information on the Internet is mind-boggling (and you don’t even have to know someone at N.S.A. to access it). Yelp, ZocDoc or Angie’s list might be a good starting point if you have no one to give you a referral. I am thrilled by my 5-star Yelp rating, but that said, I would hope that Yelp would be only one part of the search (I really don’t understand how Yelp decides what reviews are filtered – they must think I have a very big family!)
So now that you’ve met the doctor the next question to explore is WHAT are your dental needs? Are you new to the area and just needed to find a new dentist. Are you aware of a specific problem that needs attention? Did the kids finally leave the house and you are finally able to address long postponed dental care? Or maybe you want to improve your smile and are interested in cosmetic dentistry. The importance of your initial appointment(s) is to provide you with a thorough gentle examination and provide you with a candid and complete evaluation. Part of that process involves eliciting from you what are your personal dental wants and desires. Your input is essential in establishing what needs to be done, what can be done and ultimately what will be done.
Health comes first. Nearly everyone wants a beautiful smile, but don’t even think about whitening your teeth, having Invisalign treatment, or placing porcelain veneers if your gums are bleeding or you have not been examined for cavities (okay, you can think about it, just don’t be led astray.) Wanting attractive teeth is a great motivator but just make sure that you’ve been given a clean bill of dental health before proceeding with elective care. It is the dentist’s responsibility to inform you of your dental condition before beginning treatment. Sometimes needs must precede wants.
Recently, I had a new patient come to my office with newly placed veneers on his front teeth by another dentist. He hadn’t had a cleaning in two years and his gums were bright red and he had decay under old bonded fillings! All of this was present while his teeth were being beautified and consequently, the veneers will have to be replaced at significant cost.
So once the WHAT has been answered, the HOW has to be asked. How are your dental problems or concerns going to be addressed. 21st century dentistry has so much to offer that there can often be several approaches available to treat a particular situation. Which approach is right for you? Has your dentist proposed a detailed treatment plan that explains how your goals (the WHAT) will be met? Essentially a treatment plan is a road map of care detailing how things will get done, in what kind of time frame and how much it will cost. A treatment plan is not just for extensive treatment, it’s for all treatment, simple or complex and is the focal point when discussing the HOW of treatment and allows for open dialogue as to the WHY.
Full understanding of your treatment cannot be attained unless you understand not only why something needs to be done but also what will happen if nothing is done. What are the present and future consequences of your treatment decisions? Informed consent is not just a legal term, it’s knowing and understanding the what, how and why of treatment. As I mentioned before, there are many approaches and techniques available to a thoughtful and competent dentist. Why a particular treatment option is selected over another is not just based on the care, skill and judgment of the dentist but is also grounded on the needs and desires of the patient. Those needs may include consideration of finances, duration of treatment and personal preferences to name a few.
Finding a dentist who can explain the WHAT, HOW and WHY of your dental needs and wants can be as important as his or her ability to carry out the treatment successfully. Well maybe that’s a little overstated, but it is important. In fact, it might very well be the difference between having something done for you versus having something done to you.
Understanding your care before it begins is of paramount importance. Do your homework. Ask questions. Be an educated consumer.
Dr. Michael Sinkin is a NYC dentist that has been in practice for over two decades. He truly cares about the experience his patients have and takes great pride in making them feel relaxed and comfortable during every visit. Come in for an appointment and experience a different kind of dental practice. To find out more about Dr. Sinkin, please link here.