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Choosing a Dentist

If you need to choose a dentist, take your time researching your options. Don't wait for an emergency! There are several things to consider when looking for a dentist.

Location and office hours — A dentist close to home or work will make it easier to schedule visits and to arrive on time.

Cost — Does the dentist accept your insurance? Does the dentist offer multiple payment options (credit cards, personal checks, payment plans)? If your insurance plan requires referrals to specialists, can this dentist provide them?

Also, be aware that costs vary by practice. If you can, get estimates of what your dentist might charge for common procedures such as fillings, crowns or root canal therapy. Even if you have dental insurance, you may be paying part of the costs yourself.

Personal comfort — Do you feel comfortable asking questions? Do you feel like the dentist hears and understands your concerns? Would you feel comfortable asking for pain medicine or expressing your fear or anxiety?

Professional qualifications — The dentist's office should be able to tell you about the dentist's training. The office also should have policies on infection control. If the staff seems uncomfortable answering your questions, or you are uncomfortable with their answers, consider finding another dentist. You can also obtain information about a dentist's qualifications from the local dental society or your insurance carrier. Most organizations of specialty dentists also list their members and qualifications.

Emergency care — Find out what happens if you have an emergency, either during normal office hours, or at night or on a weekend. You should be able to contact your dentist (or a suitable substitute) at any time by calling an answering service, cell phone or pager.

State licensing boards — Most state dental boards have a website where you can verify if your dentist is licensed. The website also should tell you whether there have been any disciplinary actions taken against him or her.

Here are some resources for finding a dentist:

  • Friends and family members -- They can tell you about the personality of the dentist, waiting times and office staff.
  • Your current dentist — If you are moving, ask your current dentist if he or she knows of someone to recommend near your new home.
  • Your dental insurance company — Your insurer will provide names and contact information for dentists in your area who are in you dental plan's network. Usually you will have to pay a lower fee if you use these dentists. Your insurer also may have other information, such as whether the dentist accepts new patients.
  • Your state's dental association — Each state has a dental association that can provide names of dentists who are members of the American Dental Association (ADA). ADA membership is voluntary. Most dentists are members. However, ADA membership does not mean a higher quality of care.
  • Your local hospital — Some hospitals have their own dental clinics, or can recommend local dentists.
  • The nearest dental school — Most dental schools have clinics that accept new patients. The care given at these clinics is excellent. The cost is often lower than visiting a private-practice dentist. Usually, routine care at a dental school clinic is provided by dental students and residents (dentists who are completing advanced training). They are supervised by dentists who teach at the dental school. For complicated and newer procedures, these clinics offer state-of-the-art care.

Last reviewed December 23, 2015