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Picking a Dental Specialist

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Picking a Dental Specialist

Picking a Dental Specialist

May 02, 2005
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

“I was so worried about my little Scottie,” said Janine Anderson of her 11 year old son. “He has to have some oral surgery and has a really hard time with dental pain. Our family dentist recommended the specialist, so I was fairly confident. But still, I wanted to meet him first and see if he was a good match for Scottie.”

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Questions to Ask your Dental Specialist:
  • Number of similar procedures completed?

  • Continuing education?

  • Membership in professional associations?

  • How available – convenient appointment schedule?

  • What is the general appearance of the office and staff?

  • Does the office provide dental health instruction and education?

  • What arrangement does the specialist have for handling emergencies?

  • Does the specialist seem genuinely interested in you?
  • Even though Anderson procrastinated because she feared offending the specialist, when she finally called she found the office staff perfunctory. Consultations, they told her, were on Wednesdays.

    “I had no idea consults were a matter of course,” said Anderson laughing about how she’d apparently fallen behind the curve of the dental specialist world. “The idea that we as patients can shop around and be smart consumers. Here I was afraid I would be asking for too much, but I got to meet the dentist and get my questions answered, and no one thought it was at all odd or unusual.”

    Whether it’s an oral surgeon for your child or a prosthodontist to put dental implants in your own jaw, having a consult with the specialist ahead of your first appointment can allay concerns.

    Consults, however, aren’t the only way to determine your dental specialist’s thinking on various questions. Another way is to just go to your first appointment armed with a few questions. Also, while pulling out a list and ticking items off is one way to proceed, a more congenial approach is to simply drop a question here and there into the conversation.

    Whatever the route, thinking about questions ahead of time pays off. In the case of prosthodontists for example, it might be useful to inquire if the specialist belongs to any association that regulates or educates members – groups like the American Board of Periodontology or the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Also finding out how much continuing education the specialist has can indicate how up-to-date with the latest techniques he or she is. Finally and probably most importantly, finding out how much experience the implant dentist has is wise.

    “It used to be that we were all new, but these days patients can easily find people who have done a few hundred implants,” said the forty-something Bradley S. McAllister, D.D.S., Ph.D., a Tigard, Ore. clinician. “There’s evidence out there that suggests success improves with the number of procedures one does.”

    In addition to obtaining information about the specialist’s background, prospective patients and their families can get a feel for the specialist’s approach to practice.
    In particular noticing if the specialist provides enough information to allow you and your family to make informed decisions can be useful. Also determining whether you are as involved in the treatment plan as you would like to be is critical. Does the dentist consider you a partner in the discussion, or does he or she just tell you what to do without explaining the results of the exam? What style are you most comfortable with?

    Whatever questions a person pulls together, the idea that being a smart consumer in the world of dental specialists is one whose time has come. With the Internet patients are more informed that ever before. Professionals expect and even relish conversations several notches above “dental specialist 101.” More, they understand that today’s shoppers aren’t overly intimidated by the world of dental specialists and share the idea that patients and families need to think critically before engaging a professional.

    With the door open so wide, no wonder people like Janine Anderson are increasingly not only knocking, but coming away satisfied that there dental specialists respect their wises and are willing to treat them in a dignified manner.

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