Ensuring the proper fit

Finding the right dentist is more than luck; it takes investigation

Edward Jenkins, 45, shot out of bed with pain roaring from his molars, aching gums and swollen cheeks. His dentist detected the cause of the problem and suggested root canal-not on one tooth, but two-to remedy the pain. Although Jenkins had an unfriendly disposition to needles, he got it done. “The first one went OK,” says the hairstylist at Symmetric Hair Design in Nashville, Tennessee. But six months after the second root canal, Jenkins’ toothache returned. “I [ended up] in the emergency room,” Jenkins recalls. He thinks an oversized crown caused an infection. Jenkins didn’t sue his dentist for malpractice, but six years passed before he conjured up the courage to visit his new dentist, Cynthia E. Hodge, D.M.D., M.P.H. If you’ve also had a bad experience with your dentist, you may be ready to make a switch. Try these tips to ensure a proper fit.

n Ask family, friends and colleagues for referrals. “A friend or family member is familiar with the staff. They can give you a first-hand evaluation,” says Hodge, president of the National Dental Association in Washington, D.C. Also, the American Dental Association (ADA) in Chicago suggests asking your pharmacist or family physician or contacting your state dental society for a referral. If you’re relocating, ask your current dentist to make a recommendation.

n Go for a consultation. A consultation can involve getting to know the dentist, the staff and taking a tour of the facilities. “Ask questions about the dentist’s education and experience,” says Jean D. Morency, D.M.D., owner of the Arena Towers Dental Center in Houston. Expect “an oral cancer screening exam, which involves a complete exam, a check for periodontal disease and checking the teeth to see if any repairs are needed,” says Morency. At the end of the visit, discuss the treatment plan which will include a description of the recommended treatment, projected time-frame and costs.

n Inspect the office for infection control. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates universal precautions designed to protect all persons in the treatment area. Dentists and staff are required to wear protective gloves, masks and lab coats. Needles and plastic materials are used once and discarded in plastic containers marked “biohazard.” The containers are then sealed and placed into dense garbage bags (different colors according to your state) for separate disposal. Metal tools and mirrors are sterilized. Sterilization “involves instruments being scrubbed by hand with disinfectant solution and towel dried,” says Edmond R. Hewlett, D.D.S., of the UCLA Faculty Group Dental Practice in Los Angeles. “Then they are put into an autoclave-a unit that [emits] high heat, pressure and chemicals-to kill all bacteria.”

n Trust your instincts. Ask any questions that will make you feel comfortable with the dentist. Check out his “chairside” manner. Also consider office location, days and hours of operation, what insurance is accepted and the facility’s emergency procedures.

n If you’re not happy with the work, talk to your dentist. If you’re still dissatisfied, then file a complaint. According to Richard Price, D.M.D., spokesperson for

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