Finding a new dentist
Changing from your current dentist can be a nervous and daunting experience.
All sorts of questions will cross your thoughts and will be going through your mind.
These questions will be those such as:
- Will I get along with my new dentist?
- If you had problems or issues with your previous dentist, will the new dentist be any different?
- What if I can’t afford the new Dental Practice.
- Will they need my old records?
- Will the new practice be sympathetic and good with nervous patients?
- Will the new practice or dentist give me the best treatment that I need?
- What if this new dentist is not right for me?
- Will I be seeing the same dentist each time or will I have to get used to seeing somebody different at each visit?
- I want my partner or my family to go to one and the same dentist, so will this still be possible?
- What will happen on the first appointment?
We will go through all these questions below including additional information that is important to you in finding a new dentist.
This is probably the most common method of finding a new dentist and although it sounds simple, it actually isn’t. After all, if a family member or a friend says they are good, then surely you should register there? Conversely, if they say, DO NOT GO THERE, ask why? It could be that your friend or relative missed appointments and the surgery do not want them anymore. That is actually a good reason perhaps to consider this dentist. This is because this dentist wants to run their practice efficiently and effectively and want to keep costs down. Missed or failed attendances suck the lifeblood out of a once-thriving dental practice.
Another very vital aspect of a recommendation is to ask what treatment they had done. You want to be recommended to a certain dentist who did the same or similar treatment as to one you are considering. After all, you wouldn’t take your expensive and rare sports car to be tuned by a small-time local garage that is just good for basic oil changes and simple tasks.
Should you look at Google reviews or similar?
Unfortunately, website and general reviews do not mean as much as they used to. This is because they are easy to manipulate and tamper with. We just happened to look at a practice not too far from ours and noticed they had added so many positive 5-star reviews and positive feedback on their website. Delving further into this, we noticed that all the positive 5-star reviews were either false or made by staff themselves under pseudo names. And if you think about it, the reviews and comments on the website must, therefore, be treated with the utmost suspicion.
Conversely, if a Dental Practice does not have many reviews at all, it does not mean automatically that you should avoid this practice because it may simply be that this practice relies on personal recommendations rather than generic website reviews.
So in a nutshell, recommendations can be important and give you a certain feel but you definitely need to look at other aspects as well which are mentioned below.
The location of your new Dental Practice should not be underestimated. This is an important factor because if it is a hassle or stressful getting there, then that’s when problems occur such as needing emergency treatment or time off work and so on. On the other hand, a brilliant dentist is worth two in the bush, nearby! We have patients who travel considerable distances to see us because they appreciate the time and care that we spend on them. We have patients who come far and wide. Although many patients come within the local facility, there are others who come from the other end of town and even from the next County. Probably more than 100 patients altogether come from other parts of the UK including Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Often, they will spend the entire day on the train or in the car to get to us and sometimes even stay overnight. You will also be surprised to learn that, we have several patients who even live abroad but wanted to stay with us.
Also with regards to the location, if your appointments are going to be at a particular time of day then make sure you can get there in good time. Dentists really appreciate patients who attend on time and are punctual.
Finally, take into account the location with the other factors that are mentioned here.
3. Working hours
I know a dentist who won’t start till 9:15 am most mornings and books his last patient at 4:15 pm except Thursdays when he finishes at 12 pm. Also, he needs to have extended lunch from 12:20 pm till 2 pm. Needless to say; there are no evening or early morning appointments or Saturdays. This may work for some people but even for “flexible patients”, you may choose to think twice before registering here. Some of the reasons for short hours are that the dentist has lost interest in his/her work and is just waiting to wind down to retirement. Ask yourself if you really want to register there. Also, beware of part-timers! Even though they may work elsewhere, it is no use to you if you get a raging toothache when he is off and have to wait days for an emergency slot.
I would say that probably over 50% of dentists work part-time nowadays at any particular practice.
Indeed, there are dentists who work part-time due to the lifestyle. For instance, they may choose not to work full time so that they can look after their children who may be young.
However, many dentists who can work full-time, often choose to work part-time at one practice and also part-time in another practice. The problem, therefore, arises when you have had the work done at a particular Practice by one dentist and then you need to return and find it difficult to see the same dentist again.
As a general rule, it is always best to stick to one dentist all the time.
4. Principal or Associate
Although, everyone within dentistry refers to the terms principal and associate. It is not uncommon for a lay patient to know the difference let alone know why there is a difference. It has nothing to do with skills or qualifications. A principal of the practice “owns” the practice so makes all the decisions both clinical and non-clinical concerning the smooth running of the practice. The buck stops with them. An associate dentist does not “own” the practice but simply chooses to work there and can leave if they don’t like it or if another practice suits them better. It has been documented that an average associate term in some parts of the country, is less than 6 months. This means and it does frequently happen where patients complain that they “never see the same dentist twice”. It is far better to have continuity with the same dentist. In this way, you can build a better level of rapport, communication is improved and the same dentist becomes more familiar with your mouth rather than someone new who has to start from scratch each visit. On the other hand, some associates do stay with a particular surgery for years and years so could be good in that the principle is a good boss to work for and you know that you will see the same associate again. It is very easy to find out if the dentist you are going to choose is “the associate or the principal”. Just phone and ask! While you are on the phone, it’s your chance to ask the other questions which are mentioned here.
Many dental practices are owned by large corporate groups. Often, they have a high staff and dentist turnover and you will be less likely to feel as if you are a special customer.
5. Examples of their work
Most, I would say over 95% of dentists, do not take before and after photographs of their work. So as a patient, if you are to need especially cosmetic dentistry such as tooth whitening, veneers, teeth straightening, crowns, and composite fillings to replace amalgam, surely you need to see examples of what they can do? Be critical and make sure, there has not been any “Photoshop” performed or images off the internet. Are there lots of examples or just a few? Is the dentist enthusiastic to show you their work or not? Will they even let you speak to any of their patients for feedback with consent of course? All the above points are so critical and you do need to be as critical as possible yourself before you even let anyone near you for cosmetic and complex work.
Even if you do see numerous examples of their work, how do you know if it is any good because you are not a dentist and you cannot critically assess the work? I think the best way to assess the dentist is to actually go and see them and you will get a general feel. Is the dentist enthusiastic and does he feels as if he is acting in your best interests? Also, do the staff back to the dentist and does the practice run in harmony?
6. Good with nervous patients
Dentists who are good with nervous patients, are generally good with all patients and have good skills that a dentist requires. They are also usually enthusiastic about the work and will have a genuine interest in you as an individual patient rather than just another number who walks through the door.
Over 50% of patients do not go to see the dentist because they are plain and simple, terrified. Being terrified is nothing to be ashamed about and even if you are in the minority who has no apprehension about dentists, it is always good to have a dentist who is exceptional with nervous patients. Not all dentists will or are even able to treat nervous patients.
As a dentist, in order to treat nervous patients, one must themselves be of a calm and patient nature. You will also need good communication skills and a sense of humour goes a long way. When you need to choose a new dentist, even if you are not nervous, find out if your dentist is good with nervous patients as these qualities are highly transferable to all patients.
7. Is the practice well organised?
You may think, I’m only going to see the dentist for treatment to my teeth so why am I at all interested in how well the practice is run and how organised it is. You will know as a general consumer that companies which are well organised also tend to look after you as a consumer with care and even if problems do arise, they will deal with them in an appropriate and suitable manner. A really good example is that of Ryanair airlines also known as RuinAirlines because they have wrecked so many holidays and flights for people. For many years in a row, they constantly come out at the bottom of the list of airline customer satisfaction surveys. The company, in general, is run in a shambolic way and this is also reflected in, when complaints occur, how they treat their customers with disdain.
It is quite easy to tell, how organized and effective dental practice is. Firstly, just phone them with a few queries and listen to how you are dealt with. Sometimes you will get a sense that the surgery runs on “pandemonium” from this simple exercise alone. Are they willing to help you and do they make you feel welcome or are you just another number? Be aware, however, that anybody can have a “bad day at the office” so you can also offer to call back another time if you feel this may be the case. Do they answer specific questions fully or do you feel they are just regurgitating rehearsed answers? If you are still undecided, literally, go and pay them a visit. You will get a feel about the place, its staff and even existing patients in their waiting room. Whilst you are there, ask them for their fees list and practice brochure which is a regulatory requirement. Pay attention to the environment including the sounds and smells. When you come out, you want a feeling inside you saying,” yes, I definitely want to be registered here as a patient!”
8. Choose at random
When looking for a new dentist, it may seem a daunting task but what the best thing about this is that you can walk away from that practice at any time. This is because you don’t owe anything to the practice and that particular practice does not owe you anything.
You may think that choosing at random is the worst advice to give. But here is good reasoning why this can be a good place to start finding a new dentist for yourself. Sometimes, when you think you have found your ideal dentist but are still not fully, fully 100% sure, one thing that you can do is to compare with another practice. In fact, choose two other surgeries which perhaps also fit the bill and at least you can then compare all three. Ideally, it is best to actually have a full checkup with the actual dentist. If you are worried about the costs, many dentists will give you an introductory free initial checkup for new patients so you may as well use this incentive if you can.
9. Trust your instincts as well.
Are you a person with good instincts? If you have not got good instincts, we would recommend that you take somebody who actually does and they can make a decision on your behalf. They will also be more impartial as you may choose the wrong dentist for all the wrong reasons.
Even after you have considered all the above points, you may still not be able to choose the right dentist to look after the health of your teeth and gums. If you have a choice between dental surgeries, just go for which you “feel” is the best for you and don’t forget, there is never ever anything anybody can do if you change your mind. In fact, some patients even have two dentists. One may be for their general dental treatment and the other maybe for the more specialised work. Even say, if the practice, in general, looks fine to you, but the actual dentist does not, as a last Resort he can always ask to see a different dentist and you never know so that maybe the dentist that you were looking for all the way along.
What about my old records from the previous practice?
If you feel strongly about this, you can just write a letter to your previous practice asking them to give you all your dental records including x-rays. The current regulations state that any dentist must give you your records promptly and there should not be any additional charge for this or fees to pay.
You can then always keep these records for yourself and you don’t even need to disclose these to your new dentist if you do not want to. Even if your old dentist needs your previous records which they usually don’t, it is easy for them to get requested from your previous practice.
10. Finally, the fees
Finally, we come to the important subject of fees. Many patients became disgruntled or unhappy with their practice because there is a fall out with the fees.
Often, a patient will be happy with their dentist but arguments arise when the fees have not been dealt with properly.
Unfortunately, like in many areas of consumer life, companies often use hidden charges or make it difficult for you to compare their charges. We’re not saying that dental practices are as bad as certain companies such as RuinAir, but some can make it more difficult to break down their costs and sometimes costs are presented in such a way as to make it more difficult to compare like-for-like.
Patient’s will often say that the “paying” hurts more than the “pain”. You want a practice that is totally upfront about all their fees. Dentists are required by their governing bodies to fully display their fees and to tell you in advance by writing what you will be expected to pay for any treatment you need. Always ask for full breakdowns and also as to what happens if things don’t go according to plan. For example, a filling you are about to have done costs say £85. The filling has been done but you start to get sensitivity and need to go back. Will you have to pay for each and every time you go back? What if the tooth now needs a root canal at a cost of £600? You want these sorts of questions answered fully and to your satisfaction before and not after. What guarantee is there with any treatment? Even if you decide to get a second opinion, are there costs for releasing your records including x-rays? All these are important and always ask for written treatment plans and costs. Whenever in doubt just ask, ask and ask! Finally, as mentioned above, always be in sync with your Instincts and if you feel uncomfortable in any way, keep on asking questions or walk away.