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Dear Patient: How do you know if your dentist is any good?

March 15, 2023
You may really like your dental practice, or maybe you've been going there for a long time. But you need more reasons than those to be assured you're getting the care you need.

If you've been reading my “Dear Patient” articles, you know I stress the importance of dental care. But how do you know if the care you’re getting is any good? Unless you have experience in dentistry, your opinion could be based on how much you like your dental team and have less to do with understanding the quality of care you receive. While you need to have a relationship with any health-care provider (I mean, who doesn’t enjoy some good dad jokes?), you want to ensure those tasked with your health are good at what they do.

Often people pick their dental home based on location or insurance coverage. But that might not be the right office to fit your individual needs. You deserve individualized care. So if you’re beginning to wonder if you’re in the right place, look for these clues.


With some exceptions, most dental work can be prevented through customized care. Do you find that every time you go to the dentist, you need more and more work done? Is it normal for you to get a cavity every visit, yet the home-care instructions are always the same brush and floss lecture? Dental professionals are learning more and more about how to think beyond how we’ve always done it and get to the root of what’s causing your issue, so if your dental appointments feel like the movie Groundhog Day, you might not be getting the care you need to be healthy.

You might also enjoy reading: 6 tips to up your dental home care game

Technologically forward

While an office doesn't need all the latest gadgets and gizmos, some technologies have become the standard of care. Digital x-rays not only use less radiation but also allow professionals to enlarge, change the contrast, and share x-rays with other colleagues easily. Power-driven scalers (the water-squirting thing) disrupt the biofilm in your mouth as well as remove tartar. We are learning that biofilm disruption is critical to the health of your mouth. The scrapy metal instruments don’t have the same effect (although they might still need to be used). And an intraoral camera that allows you to see what your team sees and keep track of any changes from one visit to another is a must-have.

Digital scanners are also becoming common; they can replace goopy impressions, help diagnose decay, and even track wear on your teeth. Subgingival air polishing is breaking into the market. This technology uses a sweet-tasting powder to disrupt biofilm, soften tartar, and help improve the health of your oral microbiome. Some offices have even incorporated artificial intelligence software to help read x-rays and be a second set of eyes when evaluating your health.

Offers treatment options

There is typically more than one way to treat an issue. Does your office give you options for treatment? There might be a good, better, best treatment plan. While we might like the idea of best, that may not work for your time and budget. Or you may want to know that when you have work done, it will last you until the day you die. In terms of a treatment plan, there are two experts: Your dental team is the expert on oral health, but you are the expert on yourself.

I have friends who are proud of how conservative their dentist is. While that sounds great in theory, watching an issue might cause it to become a bigger problem. And the opposite is true as well. Treating without taking time to figure out how to prevent it in the future could be costing your natural teeth.

Treatments are long-lasting

Who wants to keep having the same work done over and over? Is the dental work you’re having done holding up? Talk to your provider about how long the treatment you’ve chosen will last if you care for it properly. Exceptional dental care, along with personalized home care, should be long-lasting, which saves you time, money, and tooth structure.

Continuing education

Is your dental team always learning? Science changes fast. How we practiced 10 years ago isn’t how we should be practicing now. If you’re still getting a “chat and polish” from your hygienist, you might miss out on the best dental care. Ask your providers what continuing education courses they're taking. Be curious about the newest science, and see if their face lights up.

And a last clue? Out of earshot of your dentist, ask the team who does their dental care. You might be surprised by the answer.