Old Doc Drill'n'fills may have treated all the folks in the neighborhood for years, and he might pull a tooth for the cost of lunch at McDonald's, but do you know if his treatment is the best for you? When you are evaluating the professional who will help you and your family maintain the highest level of health, I think you need to consider a few factors beyond whether or not the dentist is on your insurance list and if the dental office is in the next block.
What are your dental needs?
Are you sure that you are even aware of the condition of your mouth? Has anyone sat down with you and explained what a healthy mouth looks like? Have you been offered a chance to see how your mouth measures up to "great health"? This process takes time. It does not happen in a five-minute exam and a five-minute consultation.
Who selected the dentists on your list?
Did you know that almost any dentist can be on any list of preferred providers? The requirement is that he will sign the contract to work for a fee set by the insurance company following the treatment guidelines of the insurance company. That's about it. There are few, if any, extraordinary requirements for education, experience, excellence, or patient satisfaction--few, if any, requirements beyond those of state licensure for participation in most dental insurance preferred provider plans. It's about the buck. Accepting a reduced fee so the insurance company can make a profit while corralling as many participants from as many employers and agents as possible. And, the less treatment you receive, the more the insurance company makes. If that is all you are looking for in a health care provider, just about any dentist should keep you happy. If you have higher expectations for you and your family you might want to evaluate your choice a little closer.
Your needs determine the right dentist for you.
If your mouth is truly healthy, if you are blessed with healthy gums and strong, straight, perfect teeth and a relentless daily drive to personally maintain them with flossing and brushing, there is a good chance that almost any dentist can help you monitor your dental health. Unfortunately, most of us have somewhat greater needs. Consider that many of us have lost a tooth or teeth, or have had a number of restorative dental procedures by the time we reach adulthood. Also consider that the old restorative techniques, silver fillings and porcelain fused to "whatever metal" crowns deteriorate and discolor our teeth and gums over time. Teeth shift and wear, bones change, gums recede. Is the dentist who spends his day seeing 30 or 40 patients, two or three or even four patients at a time, going to spend the time educating you and finally helping you clinically to your highest potential? Is this dentist going to personally have the time to treat you and your family, or will the details of your treatment be left to his "helper" (whose last name you don't even know) as he sprints on to the next person on your "list". If you feel like a number in the dental office...that's exactly what you are.
Verify your dentist's expertise.
Look at photos of cases that may be similar to yours. Compare pictures of your condition, before and after treatment, to other patients the dentist has helped. You can see dental excellence in photos. Are the tissues natural-looking after treatment. Can you see the gum line and is it natural looking? If not, there might be a reason why it is being hidden.
If being "technologically up-to-date" is important to you, look at your dentist's web site and library of digital photography of his case work. If the dental office doesn't have these in 2010, maybe technology is not the focus of that particular office. If all of the photos are canned (purchased from a distributor of dental web sites--you can tell) then you have no documentation of the capacity for generation of beautiful dentistry of this office. If the web site is all commercially generated information, not personally written by the owner, you can bet that there will be little personal contribution to the dentistry you receive. In other words, just like the cleanliness of the floor and bathroom reflects the clinical cleanliness of a dental office, the web site of a dental office should be a reflection of the personal care provided on a day-to-day basis by the dentist.
My opinion is that the Internet can be a good source for finding a dentist in this age of technology and information. Read testimonials of existing patients carefully, Verify credentials and continuing education of your dentist. Do you know that a dentist practicing dentistry as learned 30 years ago in dental school would still be putting silver fillings and gold in front teeth, would not be wearing gloves even during surgery, would be using sterilization techniques developed before HIV was even discovered, and would be using techniques and materials that barely meet minimal standards in this modern age of dentistry. Responsible continuing education requires develping competence in modern dental technology including new CT-based diagnostics and other radiology techniques, implant dentistry, new and beautiful biologically compatible restorative materials, sterile technique, bone grafting and atraumatic surgical techniques.
Don't be a victim of desperate marketing attempts to grab patients with loss leaders like "free whitening" or "free exams and x-rays". Believe me...nothing of substance in dentistry comes for "free". If you are looking for the finest dentistry available for you and your family, demand to see it in photos, in writing, in the words of existing patients, in continuing education credentials, in on-on-one conversations with the dentist who will personally partner with you to help you get what you want. You are the one responsible for your dental health and the selection of your dentist.