Keep your smiles shiny: How to choose a family dentist

Here are some tips on choosing the right dentist for your family.

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  • Maybe your dentist has retired, or you've moved to a new area and you find yourself in need of a new family dentist. After a search on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages, hundreds of names look back at you. How do you choose the one who's right for you?

  • Here are some tips to make the decision a little easier.

  • 1. Do you have dental insurance?

  • If so, the first question you must answer is: Which dentists in your area accept your insurance? The answer will whittle down your choices.

  • Your insurance company can usually provide you a list of participating dentists in your area. Alternately, you can call dentist offices and inquire, but in some large areas, that task can be daunting.

  • 2. Which are nearby?

  • From the remaining dentists on your list, which ones are convenient to your home? Finding one nearby can make those trips for checkups easier.

  • 3. Consider patient specialties

  • Find out which dentists can treat the ages of your family members. Some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry, but don't see adults. Some see only adults, or only people over a certain age. Think about if you'd like to see just one dentist for the whole family or if you'd like to take young children to a pediatric specialist. Keep in mind that if your baby or very young child needs dental work, he will most likely need to have sedation, which a pediatric dentist is qualified and prepared to provide.

  • 4. Get a referral

  • Ask friends or relatives if they have a suggestion. Find out why they like their dentist. Happy patients mean a lot.

  • 5. Do you need special work done?

  • Find out if the dentists you are considering do the type of work you are likely to need. For example, if you know you will need wisdom teeth removed soon, you can inquire if the dentist does this work himself or would be referring you to a specialist. You may still choose this dentist for more routine work, but it's nice to know in advance what kind of work he can take care of.

  • 6. Inquire about office hours and emergencies

  • How does the dental practice handle after-hour emergencies? How do you contact the dentist outside normal business hours? Some dentists keep late hours one day a week, or occasional Saturdays. These type of schedules can be a great benefit to people who work 9-5 and can't easily take time off work for appointments.

  • 7. What types of anesthesia are available?

  • Does the dentist offer sedation, laughing gas or only numbing? Some offices have televisions or other distractions for your use while undergoing treatment. This can make all the difference if you are looking for a dentist for children.

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  • 8. Make a visit to the office

  • Does it look neat and clean? Do the dentist and the assistants wear gloves?

  • 9. Payment policies

  • Inquire about the office's protocol for missed appointments, and how they handle payment arrangements. Do they require your portion of the bill to be paid on the day of service? Do they offer a discount for cash or self-insurance?

  • 10. Credentials

  • If you are concerned about a dentist's credentials, visit www.ada.org for contact information for local or state dental associations who will be able to confirm the dentist's credentials and training.

  • Going to the dentist sometimes brings unwelcome surprises. No one likes those! Go through this checklist to keep the surprises more about your teeth than your pocketbook. Don't be afraid to switch to a new dentist if your first choice isn't a good fit. By being proactive, you'll find the right dentist to keep your family's mouths healthy for years to come.

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Margot Hovley is the author of the novels "Sudden Darkness" and "Glimmering Light." Her self-reliance blog is at mynewoldschool.com, and she blogs about her writing adventures at margothovley.com.

Website: http://www.margothovley.com

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