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How to find a good dentist?

Finding a good dentist is similar to finding a good restaurant; it all depends what you are looking for.

Choosing a restaurant usually boils down to 3 basic options:

1. You’re hungry, in a hurry and you want something quick and cheap to eat. A large chain fast-food drive-through, for example.

2. You don’t want to cook. You want to sit in a familiar, comfortable setting where your regular server can offer you a variety of meals. Like a neighbourhood diner. OR…….

3. You are a “Foodie.” You expect a little more than just a meal. You want perfectly prepared meals made from delicious, fresh, organic ingredients paired with the perfect drink suggestions. You want a highly personalized, fine dining experience like at A Michelin star restaurant.

So, which dentist do you want to see and how do you find them?

The “Fast Food” Dentist

Peter was referred to me by Helen, a patient, because he just moved back to Calgary and asked Helen if she knew “a good dentist”. On our first visit, I noticed Peter had a number of dental issues (broken teeth, missing teeth, cavities, heavy plaque and tartar buildup, and gum disease), so I suggested we get some X-rays and do a thorough exam/cleaning and oral cancer screening because it had been about 6 years since his last check up. “No thanks, Dr. Jeff, I just want you to smooth the chip on my front tooth,” he said. As Peter put it, No offence Dr. Jeff but I don’t like getting my teeth cleaned and I hate going to the dentist. I understood what he wanted. “Peter”, I said, “you basically want to come in only if something’s bothering you, get in quickly, and don’t want any teeth cleanings or check-ups. Does that sound right?” “Exactly Dr. Jeff!” he said.

I told him that as a prosthodontist I didn’t run that type of practice but I could recommend him to an Emergency-based dental clinic that could accommodate his wishes.

I was not Peter’s idea of a “good dentist” and I knew we were not a fit because he wanted a “fast food dentist” (no reservation, no commitments, quick and cheap). The Emergency based dental clinic I referred Peter to saw him only when Peter wanted (when something hurt or was broken). Emergency-based dental clinics are usually larger clinics, often have multiple locations, house many dentists and usually have a large number of dental chairs in order to treat emergencies quickly. They usually open on weekends, holidays and have extended hours (to accommodate their emergency clientele) and promote discounted fees (“we follow the Fee Guide”). Like fast food restaurants, these are volume based dental clinics that fulfill the needs for a large segment of the population. This was Peter’s choice of a good dentist and he was very happy with the clinic I referred him to.

The “Diner” Dentist

What if you want a dentist who can take care of all of your basic dental healthcare? You want a couple of cleanings and check-ups a year and a long-term relationship with the dentist for you and your family (children, relatives). Because you have established a rapport with your dentist, they will know your dental history and can recommend options that will meet your expectations and needs.

You want a dependable “diner dentist,” where everyone is familiar and comfortable because you have a long history with them. All basic dental needs can be met there, and dental emergencies are usually accommodated for their patients . If any complex issues arise, these dentists will refer you out to a specialist to ensure your optimal health. These clinics are typically neighborhood-based, independently owned, and not affiliated with a franchise. “Diner dentists” serve a large portion of the population’s dental needs, and I frequently refer patients I’ve finished treating back to a “diner dentist” for their general dentistry.

The “Michelin Star” Dentist

You might choose to visit a dental expert if you have more complex dental needs than the average person or if you are very picky about your teeth and dental health. You want a dentist who will take the extra time to address all your concerns, explain everything in detail and is very experienced. Your complete health is prioritized so only a few patients are scheduled each day so that you don’t feel rushed and will have the dentists undivided attention. These clinics are the opposite of volume based practices.

The ” Michelin-star” dentist you would want to see would most probably be a prosthodontist who works with other board-certified specialists to give you the ultimate in dental health care. Prosthodontists have smaller offices since they only see one patient at a time. Their advanced training program is demanding and time consuming (3+ years after dental school) so they are small in numbers (only 1% of dentists are prosthodontists). Alberta has approximatley 2,500 dentists but less than 20 prosthodontists (and only 6 in Calgary). Prosthodontists serve a small part of the population due to their limited numbers and other dentists usually see prosthodontists for their own work. For your child, you would want an appoinment with a Pedodontist.

So, there you have it. The best way to find a good dentist is to pick the type of clinic that is right for you!

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