Choosing a Fantastic Dentist: Making the Informed Choice

In 2014 Dr. Barotz published The Power of a Beautiful Smile. This post offers a sneak-peak at the bestseller’s 23rd chapter:

Making the Informed Choice

From this book, you are gaining an in-depth understanding and appreciation for your teeth and mouth, as well as dentistry’s best and latest treatments for keeping them exceptionally healthy. But an excellent knowledge of dental health and treatment is to a large extent only as useful as the dental practitioner who is your partner. While all dentists go to dental school and are licensed, they vary a great deal in their approach, skill sets, technology, and quality of work. Therefore, it is vitally important that you choose the best dentist for you. So what are the criteria for making the right choice?

First off, you need to acknowledge that there are many different types of dentists. Obviously there are pediatric dentists for children, who make the experience much like going to an amusement park and more likely that children have a wonderful experience. Or you might prefer a dentist that caters specifically to adults where you’ve left your kids at home and you don’t have to deal with anybody else’s.

Most commonly, there are family dentists. These are excellent for the portion of the population who have attractive teeth, have taken good care of them, and just want to go in for protective maintenance, cleanings, fillings, crowns, etc. This type of patient doesn’t necessarily need a dentist with a broader scope of skills. If the patient continues to take care of their teeth, their family dentist will certainly be fine for them. The considerations grow more significant, however, if you are considering making cosmetic improvements to your smile, or if you have significant problems.

Cosmetic Dentists

If seeking cosmetic dentistry, recognize that a family dentist may not have a lot of experience doing cosmetics. They may offer it, but good cosmetic dentistry requires significant skill and attention to detail. When considering a particular cosmetic dentist, there are certain criteria to keep in mind. Ask if that dentist will give you the opportunity to preview what they would do for you with the use of digital cosmetic imaging – so you can visualize the changes to be made before you invest anything. They should give you a selection of different looks from which to choose. Additionally, will they give you the opportunity to look at pictures of actual cases they’ve completed? Be aware, there are very slick books out there filled with excellent before-and-after pictures that many dentists use in their offices to show you what can be done. But these books are not necessarily showing you what has been done by them, as the pictures are not of their patients. So unless that dentist can show you pictures specifically of their own work, you should be a bit leery about selecting that dentist, particularly for cosmetics. Also, will the dentist show you what your teeth will look like in the form of preview temporaries? These are temporary crowns or veneers that act as prototypes of what the final result will look like. This step alone is one that insures great results as opposed to just hoping for them. If you are getting a cosmetic smile makeover with dentures or implants, the same is true. Does the dentist show you in advance of completion what the final product will look like? Does he or she go even further and set up an extra appointment to modify the veneers, crowns or dentures?

Problems to Solve

If you have or anticipate having problems beyond the simple cleanings, fillings, etc., you would want a dentist with a broader range of skills. Find out if they focus on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, since adults lose more teeth to gum disease than for any other reason. Do they do implants, root canals, laser gum therapy and extractions in the office, or do they refer to other doctors? Over the course of your adult life, you are more than likely going to need one or more of these services. A general dentist without experience in complex cases is not the place to go if you have major problems. The norm is that they will refer you all over town from specialist to specialist, sending you from one doctor to the next doctor to the next.

There are many potential problems with this. The most immediate is the inconvenience, but there are also communication gaps of time and data where even responsible practitioners can (a) cause your treatment to take many months longer than necessary because of the logistical issues of using the “team of specialists,” and (b) lose and confuse vital treatment information. For example, it can easily take over a week for two responsible, well-meaning and busy doctors just to connect on the telephone. Then after the doctor refers the patient, that patient must endure another wait to get in to see each specialist. One referral to a specialist alone can add several weeks to a month just because of the time it takes for the two doctors to connect, communicate, and get you an appointment.

In addition, specific aspects of a case can all too easily get lost in communication. Obviously the doctors will confer, likely by telephone. For example, the original doctor can have an intention of how he wants an implant to be placed, but the implant specialist is not going to be the one putting the crown on the implant and could have a different understanding of what the doctor intends. The specialist’s primary focus is to put in really solid implants. So you may not end up with an ideal result just because two responsible dedicated doctors have communication mismatches.

Plus, each time you see a specialist, it is like starting over. You are meeting and greeting a new dentist, having to assess everything about them as you did with your original dentist to see if you feel comfortable and confident with them. Every time you must make a new appointment and assess that new doctor, it can cost you another two or three weeks, plus additional dollars.

In addition, what if you are not comfortable or if there is no chemistry between you and the doctor? It’s not just the skill set you should be considering, but personality too. Dentistry by its nature is a very personal thing. You are taking your chances again.

Super Dentist

There is another kind of comprehensive practice, where the dentist handles all aspects of your care personally. I like to call this practitioner a super dentist.

Why? Many super heroes had one specific talent or superpower. The Flash had super speed. Spiderman could create webs. The Hulk was immensely strong. Batman had super technology. But only one of those heroes had most all of the super powers. That was Superman. The dentist who can handle complex cases without sending you all over town could be deemed a super dentist. It is not that he or she does any one particular procedure better than all of his or her colleagues, but it is the fact this doctor does all of the things really well that is significant. So much of what we do is built on trust and relationships. I find it almost silly that dental care so often involves one or more specialists – especially since many of the specialists focused on their area of expertise are not as well-versed in the verbal and people skills as generalists. Why is that? Specialists like oral surgeons and endodontists (root canals) are given their credibility by the referring doctor. They do not need to be interested in building long-term relationships with their patients.

The specialists in reality often belong to that group called “The One and Done.” Another perhaps unexpected yet important advantage to having a super dentist is ongoing passion. Those dentists who only aspire to a specific area of dentistry – be it strictly cosmetic, or strictly crowns and bridges, etc. – often experience burnout after a number of years of doing the same thing over and over. Yet after over thirty years of practicing and watching many of my colleagues complain about the monotony of what they do and even look into other professions, I and others like me still get a charge out of dentistry. Why? Because we are always learning and expanding what we know and do!We see a wider variety of cases. Plus, we get immense satisfaction taking a patient, with whom we’ve developed a personal relationship, through all the steps along the way as we solve their health issues, and with them create beautiful and functional results.

We change lives on a daily basis and that is truly gratifying and heartwarming! Pride and passion are two qualities highly desirable in a good dentist.

Interviewing the Prospective Dentist

Once you decide what kind of dentist best matches your needs, how do you determine if a dentist has those skill sets and traits? Certainly a starting point is to inquire at the dentist’s office as to what services they provide. You may also ask for testimonials or references from patients of that dentist. Plus, today you can certainly Google to see what kind of reviews come up for the dentist and his office.

So what specific skills might you ask a dentist about? Let me list a few:
-Do they do gum treatments? Or if you have gum problems, are they going to have to send you to someone else?
Does the dentist do root canals, or every time you have a toothache, are they going to send you to someone else?
Do they do dental implants?
Do they do custom cosmetic dentures?
Do they do Invisalign or orthodontics?
-Do they work with the MDs to make sure your overall health is not affected by your dental conditions?

These are abilities that a good consumer might seek, and services that the super dentist can provide. Again, it’s important to ask these questions if you have multiple problems. Otherwise you will have to be referred from doctor to doctor to doctor. As said, that will really expand the amount of time it will take to solve your issues, as well as multiply the potential for communication errors. In addition, it might end up being quite a bit more expensive relying on one or more specialists in addition to your own dentist. Even if it is not more costly in dollars – what is your time worth?

When interviewing any potential dentist, another aspect to observe is whether the dentist is receptive to your questions. Does he or she answer them in a way that you understand? Communication to and from the dentist is very important. But that responsibility does not lie only with the dentist. The patient must ask questions if they have them. It is also the patient’s responsibility to voice concerns about things they may not be pleased with in some way. Good dentists want your feedback. If you have positive things to say, let them know because that makes their day. But more importantly, they need to be sensitive, willing, and open to hearing feedback about things you feel need improvement. It allows them to do better work, because they know they are catering exactly to your needs and desires.

You should also seek out a dentist who is concerned about your comfort before, during and after treatment. Before any treatment begins, the dentist should offer a free consultation. They should be willing to talk with you at the very beginning at no cost to see if the office is right for you and if you are right for the office. If you have complex problems, the dentist should do a very thorough examination appointment, most likely with a fee involved, as they take the time to diagnose your needs. The dentist should be willing to tell you what they are planning for you, why it is planned, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and if there will be downtime associated with the treatment. During treatment, the dentist should do everything possible not to hurt you. A dentist should not promise to never cause any pain because there will usually be some time when that will not be true despite the best intentions. The dentist, however, should certainly promise to stop if he or she is causing you discomfort, and do something to correct the situation. The dentist should also assess your level of anxiety and be able to provide sedation for you if needed. After treatment, the dentist should call you either that evening or the next day if you have had a significant procedure. The dentist should be certain to give you appropriate pain medication so if there is post-operative discomfort, you always have something strong enough to deal with the pain. For peace of mind, the dentist should also be willing to include a written guarantee that they stand behind the treatment, pledging that it will last a certain amount of time as long as you maintain it with proper cleanings and exams. It would also be comforting if the dentist gives you an indication that they’re proud of what was done for you or others, because in many respects, dentistry is really an art.

If you take time to think about it, there may be other desirable considerations to look for in a dentist as well, that are beyond the skill sets. They might include:
Concern about you as a human being and your overall health as well as your oral health, so you can truly enjoy life.
The dentist truly seeing themselves as your partner, making sure you get the treatment that is right for you. They listen to what you have to say and explain every part of your treatment before starting.
Attempting to see new patients within one or two days of when they first call.
Offering appointments that work for the patient. That can include seeing patients every day of the workweek, even including early morning and late evening appointments.
An office staff that is trained to make your dental experience as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
The latest technological advances in dentistry, from hi-tech digital panoramic X-rays, to in-office CT scans, to even their own dental lab room. They should be willing to give you a complete tour when you are considering them as your dentist.
Offer a comfortable patient lounge that may include a variety of fresh baked snacks, juices, gourmet coffee, tea, and purified spring water.
Treatment rooms that include movies or music, a warmed neck pillow and chairs with massaging lumbar support.
Office specialists who explain financing and payment options, along with advice on the best way for you to collect any insurance benefits due you.
-Access to the dentist, including their home or cell telephone number (this is in addition to your dentist giving you a follow-up call after significant treatment to make sure you are comfortable and satisfied with the work done).
-The dentist who goes above and beyond continuing education and professional development requirements to make sure you get the best and latest treatments available.

Admittedly, this is a pretty comprehensive listing. Not every dentist will meet all the above criteria, though it certainly is possible. Everything mentioned is something we do in our office. But these may not all be necessary for your needs. You should decide what is important to you, and look for those in the dentist that you select.

Having a comprehensive knowledge of dental health as offered in this book, a willingness to be proactive and responsible about your own dental and overall health, and having a top quality or even super dentist as described here – will all go a long way to ensuring that you have the best dental health and well-being possible. Believe me, this is all very doable.

That only leaves one subject remaining.

About BarotzDental

Dr. Charles S. Barotz is a 1980 graduate of Georgetown University School of Dentistry and has dedicated his life to provide you with the best that dentistry has to offer. Dr. Barotz is continually educating himself and his staff with the newest dental techniques and approaches, in order to provide you with advanced, state of the art, comfortable, personalized, and antiseptic dental care. Dr. Barotz has been published and lectures internationally on numerous subjects relating to excellence in dentistry.
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