What should you look for in a dentist?
That's the question we posed to nearly 30 dental professionals. While Spear Digest usually focuses on topics of interest to dentists, this time we decided to leverage our connections with some of the best of the best in dentistry to help patients find a practice that is right for them. Why? If a patient uses these tips, they will find a practice that best fits their needs and values, and the dentist will get a patient who best fits their practice. Both will be happier in the long run. And isn't that what we all want? A little more happiness?
If you notice some tips we might have missed, please let us know in the comments. With patients and dentists working together, we can truly achieve Great Dentistry.
Tips to follow when looking for a dentist
These 15 different tips were compiled from nearly 30 different dental professionals who shared what patients should look for when finding a new dentist.
Here is a quick glance at our findings:
- 11 of the 29 dental professionals recommended finding dentists who made continuing education a priority.
- 10 said trust is the key factor when looking for a new dental practice.
- 8 said to find a dentist who cares about what their patients want.
- 3 advised making sure the entire practice team was happy.
- 2 suggested making sure the practice has the latest technology.
- None recommended seeing a barber for your dental needs ...
Enjoy, and we wish you the best of luck in finding a dentist that is right for you!
1. Is the dentist focused on continuing education?
“(Find dentists who) invest in their clinical skills and continuing education. The top dentists are always investing in themselves to improve their clinical skill set so they can perform the latest techniques and provide the latest advancements for their patients. Advanced cosmetic dentistry, treatment of sleep apnea, placement of implants and performing All-on-4 procedures are common areas where dentists get additional training.” – Anissa Holmes, D.M.D., founder of Delivering WOW.
“Dentists who are committed to continuing education will often belong to local study clubs and organizations like Spear Education. Another good resource would be to call the local dental society and ask them for a referral based on those two factors.” – Drew Byrnes, D.M.D.
“Visit practice websites and see what their message is all about. Some websites are flooded with advertisements of discounts, sales, and value messages. Other websites will take the time to really let you know about the dentist(s). What kind of training are they continuing to take? Do they mention organizations or meetings they attend? A dentist who prioritizes and values continuing education and staying up to date will often share this information with patients, so it's a good area to visit on the website.” – Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D.
“The extent of a dentist's post-graduate education is rarely considered by the lay person who is looking for a dentist, but it should be.” – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.
“Look at their training. This is not just talking about prosthodontist versus general dentist. Some of the best restorative dentists in the world are general practitioners. This speaks to the commitment to continued growth as a professional. Look on the office website or ask the staff about the continuing education the doctor and the office attends. If they only go to the state dental society meeting every few years, the office may be behind in the latest trends in care.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.
“Look for signs that the owner consistently reinvests in themselves and their team. It may be posted on the website or it may be framed certificates on the reception wall. Dentistry is a rapidly changing industry. It takes lifelong learners to stay ahead of the curve and provide you the best care.” – David Maloley, D.D.S.
“Patients should be looking for a dental office full of awareness. Aware of the latest procedures and diagnostic methodologies. We are learning so much more about how dentists can help diagnose conditions like airway issues that can have major implications in overall health. This awareness extends into how young patients should be diagnosed and treated, once again with implications that may affect their health throughout life. Not all dentists have this awareness yet, but the ones who do can transcend your normal dental visit.” – Jason Lipscomb, D.D.S., co-host of the Dental Hacks podcast
“Dentistry encompasses such a broad spectrum, that a dentist should have a solid 360-degree understanding of the different specialties, so patients feel thoroughly looked after. This also means that they are up to date with the current trends and technologies that make the visit to the dentist a more pleasant experience.” – Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D.
“The field of dentistry is consistently evolving, with new technology and techniques being introduced every year. It's important to look for someone who demonstrates dedication to continuing education. Dentists who are members of continuing education programs, like Spear Education, are on the forefront of dentistry and will be able to utilize the most up to date materials and techniques to help you achieve your best state of oral health.” – Andy Janiga, D.D.S.
“The best dental practices are committed to continuing education.” – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.
“You want to look for a dentist who is committed to being a continual student, who takes continuing education, and willing to grow personally and professionally.” – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.
2. Is the dentist trusted by others?
“When you're buying the invisible you need a trusted source. When looking for a dentist you need a referral from someone inside dentistry like another dentist or a dental specialist. Call your local oral surgeon, endodontist, orthodontist, or pediatric dentist and get a referral.” – Howard Farran, D.D.S., MBA, founder of Dentaltown, host of Dentistry Uncensored
“TRUST. Online reviews are helpful, but not always a true reflection on the dentist's care; however, spoken testimonies from others who needed what you are looking for are invaluable.” – Kevin Huff, D.D.S.
“Word of mouth and online reviews are an easy way to get a sense of a practice's reputation. Today, you can learn of the skill and expertise of the provider by their reputation in the dental community (ask for a referral from a specialist you already see, or if you need a specialist, ask your general dentist). That might not always be feasible for a patient if they haven't been to the dentist in a while though.” – Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D.
“My advice for what patients should look for is simply 'caveat emptor' or buyer beware. We live in the age of limitless information and the meritocracy of the internet. Take your time and do the research on the practice's reviews, website, community involvement, and social media channels. You have a wealth of information available to you if you are willing to put in the time to learn about the dental practice. If you are referred to a dentist and there's no information available to you online about them, that might be a telling sign and it may be time to seek another referral.” – Craig Spodak, D.D.S., co-founder of Bulletproof Dental Practice
“If you are seeing a specialist for treatment (i.e., implant placement, root canal, orthodontics), ask them, besides my existing dentist, who would they see if they were undergoing your treatment. Having patients leave a specialist's office for another restorative office is not a practice-builder for the specialist so you may need to push them for a name. Make an appointment with the new office to get a second opinion. It will give you an opportunity to see another provider's office, staff, and examples of their work. You will also be able to tell if your current dentist is the best. The specialist will tell you that you are absolutely in the right hands.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.
“If I was a patient searching for a dentist, this is how I would do it: I would get recommendations from people who I know (traditional word of mouth), look online at the reviews of that dental office, as well as explore the office's Facebook and Instagram pages. This would give me a sense of the culture of the office, what happens inside the office and what to expect on a visit there.” – Paul Goodman, D.M.D., founder of Dental Nachos
“A patient in search of a dentist should start by asking friends and family if they have a dentist they like and trust. The dentist, their team, and the physical environment must put you at ease. A high-integrity practice will reduce your fears and skepticism about receiving dental care.” – David Maloley, D.D.S., founder of Relentless Dentist
“A worthy and reputable reference is, for me, a direct patient referral. Patients are our evangelists and there is no better reference than those who experienced care.” – David St. Ledger, D.D.S.
“Patients need to first trust that their dentist is giving them honest, sound guidance. Then, they need to be able to trust their ability to perform any work needed and to help keep them out of the dental chair. This is sometimes difficult for patients to assess. A good place to start it is by asking trusted friends for a referral and looking up the dentist's credentials.” – Drew Byrnes, D.M.D., host of Fee for Service Dentist Podcast
“Look at reviews. Go on Google, Yelp or Facebook. Look for reviews written by real people and say real things. I'll take poor grammar and misspellings with heartfelt words (positive or negative) over platitudes any day. Online reviews have reached a point where it's easy to game the system, but sometimes you can really find out about the office by looking at reviews for authentic bits.” – Alan Mead, D.D.S., co-host of The Dental Hacks
3. Does the dentist care about what their patients want?
“From the first contact, does the team (who are representatives of the practice) and doctor listen to my feedback and consider what they have heard? Are they adept to listening? Are clear expectations set and met?” – Mark Fleming, D.D.S.
“The saddest thing in health care right now is that it's hard to find someone who genuinely cares about people. When searching for a dentist, it's important to find someone who is willing to spend some time, who genuinely cares about getting it right. You can find this by looking at how much time they've spent in continuing education and if they're willing to spend some time with you at your first appointment.” – Dawn Wehking, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., www.dentistlafayette.com
“The most important thing a dentist can offer a patient is a willingness to customize care. Educating patients on their issues helps create a team approach where both dentist and patient are working together to come up with the best outcome. Exceptional dental care begins by listening to a patient's concerns and wishes. This is the basis behind patient-centered care.” – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.
“The No. 1 thing patients should look for in a dentist is compassion. Yes, the office needs to be clean, the staff needs to be kind, the technology up to date. I consider that all a given. However, when a patient goes in for treatment and they don't have a compassionate dentist who cares truly about the patient needs and desires … that is not an office I would want to be a part of.” – Sameer Puri, D.D.S.
“You want to find someone who will take his or her time to understand you and your concerns, and with whom you can openly communicate.” – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.
“Any patient looking for a new dentist can look first at the website and see how much of it is about the patient, and how much is about the doctor/practice. When they call the office, ask the person who answers the phone, 'How does the doctor learn about me?' If the answer centers around what the doctor/hygienist/staff will do in the exam, that's different than if the answer is more about helping the patient to share their story and what is important to them. Neither answer is 'wrong' – but either can be incorrectly matched to the person on the phone.” – Dr. Steve Carstensen, D.D.S., founder of SeattleSleepEducation.com
“Patients are attracted to a mixture of compassion and confidence in their dentist. These aren't mutually exclusive qualities, but too much of one can offset the other. To be accommodating, some dentists can come off as wishy-washy or uncertain of themselves. On the other hand, too much confidence can seem inattentive or disinterested. Dentists need to find their balance of compassion and confidence that helps new patients feel comfortable and that instills trust.” – Chris Salierno, D.D.S., editor-in-chief of Dental Economics
“Patients should look for a dentist with the ability/willingness to listen to them thoroughly and customize treatment according to their needs.” – Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D.
4. Does the practice's values meet your needs?
“Patients need to think about what they want in their next dentist. I say this because despite what some patients think, not all dental offices are the same. Some offices, like mine, are going to be focused on a high level of personalized care while others will have a different focus. Some offices, for example, focus only on emergency care. Our vision states, 'We expect excellence in everything we do,' and we work hard to live that vision. Simply put, not all offices are not going to want to live that vision and that is OK.” – John Carson, D.D.S., P.C.
“I would think of a dental office a bit like a restaurant. Each dental practice has a different business model, and they can all work. Some are very busy and see a lot of patients in a day; others see just a few patients in a day and take more time to see each patient. One way is not wrong, one way is not right. It's just up to me, as the patient, to think about which style fits my personality and would make me feel comfortable as a patient. Maybe call the office and ask them a little bit about the experience as a patient. It is not easy to choose a new anything in this world, and a dentist is an important choice.” – Paul Goodman, D.D.S.
“Patients should look for an office that fits their needs. Some patients may enjoy a laid-back approach to patient care, not care about technology, and prefer not to make any big changes. Others may enjoy text message confirmation, new technology, and hearing about new research that has changed the clinician's approach to their care.” – Michelle Strange, R.D.H., co-host of A Tale of Two Hygienists
“It's important as a patient to recognize that we are blessed to have many options. There are dentists who provide emergency care. These dentists who typically work with patients to pull cracked or abscessed teeth, getting patients out of pain immediately. There are dentists who provide repair dentistry. This type of dentist helps you fix cavities, crown a broken tooth, or even get gum disease under control. The last type of dentist can provide regenerative care. These types of dentists can rebuild your teeth that have been damaged from grinding or clenching, fix bad bites, replace missing teeth, and maybe even replace someone's entire mouth with a new set of teeth. Some dentists spend years studying and practice to be experts in each area. Choose a dentist that aligns with your goals and circumstances and look for a team that is passionate about what type of care they are providing to the patients.” – Wes Mullins, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., co-host of The Dental Guys Podcast
“What a patient should look for in a dentist depends on what level of care they need and value. If the dental patient is simply using dentists for their emergency services, the clinic down the street can play that role. For a person without a cavity and perfect teeth, there is a large array of offices that will suffice. Selection becomes critical for patients with preexisting, ongoing or early dental damage. In that case, the skill of the dentist and dental team is important. A wrong choice, typically, leads to a lack of care and a progression of the damage. Very rarely are patients referred out of a restorative dental practice to another one for treatment. The damage is simply monitored. The problem for the patient is being selective and understanding that not all dentists are equal.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.
“Patients should look for a practice that shares their values. Some people want only minimal service, while others are searching for a dental team who will embrace all their wishes for optimum health. So, the first thing patients should be clear on is what they want, then seek a dental team that can meet those expectations. I'm sure I would create the profile of an ideal patient that would match what my office culture is like; they should look for an office that seems an ideal match for what they define as optimum. As their own best advocates for health, people should be prepared to ask questions – so any dental office that is ready to answer what can be pointed questions is going to be better equipped than those who want to check the boxes on a form or fit everyone into a standard workflow.” – Steve Carstensen, D.D.S.
“When it comes to finding a dentist, you want to find the 'right' dentist for you, because everyone values things differently.” – Jeff Lineberry, D.D.S., F.A.G.D., F.I.C.O.I., A.A.A.C.D.
5. Does the practice create a great patient experience?
“From the moment a patient enters the office till they leave, each patient should feel like the experience they are receiving is second to none.” – Andy Cohen, D.M.D.
“Today's world requires health care professionals who pay attention to detail, not as far as the clinical work is concerned but also being able to exhibit their human touch.” – Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D.
“Patients should look for an office that provides a great patient experience consistently.” – Paul Etchison, D.D.S., F.I.C.O.I., F.A.G.D.
“Evaluate for visual and verbal clues that define the focus of the practice. What does the dentist do in the practice to help identify the goals and priorities of the patient specific to the health and well-being of the patient? How does the dentist remain current to continually update skills and techniques to provide options for the patient? What does the dental office do to maintain a safe environment for the patients?” – Doug Benting, D.D.S., M.S., F.A.C.P.
6. Is the practice team happy?
“The best dentists invest in training for their team so their teams can better serve the patients. They also truly care about seeing their team members achieve their personal and professional goals.” – Anissa Holmes, D.M.D.
“Not only should you feel the love from dentist AND the staff, but you should see clear evidence that the dentist clearly cares about providing each and every patient the best care. When visiting the office, respectful staff members who appear to love their jobs says a great deal about the dentist as a person.” – Kevin Huff, D.D.S.
“You should look for an office in which you can feel how happy the employees are to be part of the team, they have a great culture, and they are committed to providing the best product and experience possible to their patients. If the staff is happy and turnover is low, you can be sure that at the top of that organization is someone who cares about what they provide for their community and everyone on the team feels good about what they provide. Basically, you want to find an office in which the people care about the details, because that is where you are going to get the best care.” – Paul Etchison, D.D.S., F.I.C.O.I., F.A.G.D., co-host of the Dental Practice Heroes Podcast
7. Does the practice have the latest technology?
“Patients should be demanding digital technology, digital impressions, 3D imaging, and 3D printing! All this allows dentists to be deliver more predictable, more efficient, and more accurate dentistry that fits into the patient's time and budget. As a dentist, if you aren't moving forward at this point, you are being left behind!” – Richard Sullivan, D.D.S., co-host of the Millennial Dentist Podcast
“When looking for a new dentist I think it is important for a patient to find an office that makes their experience not only more comfortable, but more efficient and convenient. An office that incorporates up-to-date technology is key. Some examples of this are the following: CBCT to properly diagnose their overall clinical conditions, digital radiographs to minimize radiographic exposure, intraoral photography for better communication, and digital scanning (with or without chairside milling) to eliminate impressions and often more predictably execute indirect restorations. If I was a patient, these attributes would be highly important to me (along with overall comfort with the environment) in choosing a new dental office.” – Mike Skramstad, D.D.S.
8. Is the dentist involved in the local community?
“The best dentists not only perform the best clinical dentistry and invest in their teams, but they also value serving the community. Many perform free days of dentistry, provide free smile makeover competitions and participate in local charity events.” – Anissa Holmes, D.M.D.
9. Does the dentist document their work?
“This one is hard to evaluate since a patient does not have a good filter to view quality at a micro level. However, dentists who make images of their work (not that of other dentists), and who will show you photos of cases similar to yours, tend to work at a higher level than those who do not. Photography is a critical element for treatment planning and lab/specialist communication. I would be suspicious of the care I would receive if photography was not part of the practice.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.
10. Is the dental practice a true team?
“A patient should look for integrity, dedication to science and a conservative approach on health preservation. In other words, a patient should look not just for a dentist but for a team that works and grows together.” – Dr. Costin Marinescu, D.D.S.
11. Does the dentist and their team practice good infection control?
“Clean, uncluttered dental offices, wearing proper PPE, and an overall sense of cleanliness, should be at the top of the list when patients are looking for a dentist. I also believe patients should be equipped with questions that should be asked to confirm they follow the proper CDC recommendations. If they don't see the clinical team doing hand hygiene multiple times during their appointment, they should proceed with caution. I also believe a focus on prevention should be a top priority. We tend to chase disease in dentistry; focusing on prevention and overall health should be another top priority for patients.” – Michelle Strange, M.S.D.H., R.D.H.
12. Does the dentist teach or mentor other dentists?
“Dentists who teach others tend to focus on the care they deliver. Whether it is at a dental school or study club, dentists who teach from their work (not corporate slides) will routinely be up to date and attempt to practice at a higher level.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.
13. Is the dental practice organized?
“Being seated at your appointment time doesn't happen by accident, it comes from a systemized practice with solid leadership.” – David Maloley, D.D.S.
14. Will the dentist work with your insurance even if they're out of network?
“Consider how you can effectively use your dental insurance with a dentist, but don't use a list of in-network providers to solely select who you're going to trust with your dental care. A potential misunderstanding is if a dentist is not on your list, they won't work with your insurance. More often than not, even if a dental practice is not listed as contracted with your insurance carrier, they can still help you utilize your benefits. I personally refrain from signing any contracts with insurance companies because I want to be able to give the quality, time, and detail to each case that it needs, but have always assisted patients with maximizing their benefits!” – Courtney Lavigne, D.M.D.
15. How does the dentist and their team make you feel?
“The patient must have faith in the dentist and office. There is not a way to measure this, but many dental procedures are uncomfortable, and you need to believe the dentist is going to create a wonderful experience and final result.” – Jeff Rouse, D.D.S.