Lots of people start their search by asking for recommendations from friends, family members, and local health professionals whom they already know and trust. When you ask other people for recommendations, it’s most helpful to find out specifically what they like about their dentist. For example, “I like the way he explains things to me” might carry more weight than “he’s right down the block.” Also, if you have specific requirements—say, you want a family dentist who is very good with toddlers—you may want to talk specifically to other families with small children, or to your pediatrician.
Online reviews and doctor finders can be very helpful, particularly if you are moving to a new location and don’t know anyone who could give you a first-hand opinion of local dentists. State and local dental associations often maintain these lists as well. :DentalPlans offers a dentist search tool that enables you to look up dentists within a set distance from your zip code—anywhere in the country. The advantage of using this tool is that all the dentists you find through :DentalPlans offer significant savings to members of a dental savings plan.
Once you have a few names of dentists who are conveniently located, and come recommended by someone you know, a dental association, or trustworthy online reviewers, you can pay them a “virtual visit.” A dentist’s website is a good place to read their bio, check their credentials, and find out their policies on a number of important issues: for example, their office hours, emergency coverage, and what dental insurance or savings plans they take. If you are interested specifically in cosmetic dentistry, you can check out any before-and-after photos they have posted—but make sure that these are pictures of actual patients, not stock photos. If the dentist doesn’t have a website, you may have to do this initial research by speaking to an office manager over the phone.
It’s a good idea to visit the practice and say a quick hello to the dentist before deciding to become a patient. That way you can get a sense of how courteous and helpful the staff members are, and whether the office is clean and well-organized. These are qualities that will affect your experience as a patient, and there’s really no way to assess them without checking the office out in person. With all else being equal, the decision often comes down to a gut feeling. So by all means do your homework—but don’t discount the impressions you get from a personal visit. Putting some extra time into finding the right dentist now can pay off with a lifetime of good checkups and excellent oral health.