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Eight Criteria for Selecting a Dental Office

Aug 17, 2007
1. Practitioner style.

Do you prefer a dentist who is friendly and concerned, asking about your comfort at every step, or do you prefer a brisk practitioner who proceeds on the assumption that if you're uncomfortable you'll express that?

2. Appointment availability.

Are you restricted to certain days of the week or certain times of the day when scheduling appointments? Can the dentist adapt your schedule?

3. Office location.

Is the practitioner's office conveniently near where you live or work, or will you have to go out of your way to get there?

4. Appointment reliability.

Some dentists adhere to schedules more than others. Some even schedule several patients for the same time slot. Can you afford to wait half an hour, or would that be a problem for you?

5. Expertise.

If you have particular procedures in mind, such as cosmetic dentistry or implant tooth replacement, does the practitioner have satisfactory experience in that specialty? How many years has he or she been treating patients with this specialized care?

6. Financial considerations.

Money is the first thing that many patients and practitioners want to discuss.

7. Insurance plan coverage.

You should have no difficulty learning from the dentist's office staff whether they accept your insurance plan. Keep in mind, however, that many plans provide only partial coverage for many procedures, and may limit the frequency of procedures that are covered in full. For instance, your plan might pay for two cleanings a year but your dentist may recommend three.

It isn't enough to learn only whether your plan covers a particular practitioner. You will also need to ask whether the office wants full payment up-front or accepts a co-payment and handles its own reimbursement. (If it doesn't, you are expected to pay the full amount, then file paperwork yourself to receive reimbursement.)

Keep in mind that insurance coverage varies enormously. Insurance companies often change their policies about repayment rates, co-payment amounts, scheduling, and the like. Practitioners also feel little duty to remain "loyal" to plans that themselves have no loyalty. It isn't unusual for a dentist to start out working with many insurers and then, years later, begin weeding out the more difficult payers, or simply dropping coverage altogether. Therefore, searching for a dentist based mainly on insurance coverage is not recommended.

You should also ask about alternative payment methods. Many dentists still follow the traditional policy of wanting payment in full at the end of each visit. In fact, many dentists today are choosing to switch from insurance-based practices to a fee-for-service system to regain control over treatment processes and patient care.

More and more dentists offer flexible payment policies, even for more complicated procedures. Ask whether the office can work out a monthly payment schedule rather than up-front payment. Some offices accept credit cards, too. Your dentist should not make you feel in any way embarrassed for asking questions about the fee or payment policies. When recommending any treatment plan your dentist should be willing to specify fee structure and schedules (and be willing to put it in writing.)

8. Warranties.

Few dentists guarantee their work for a specified time period, so a practitioner who offers an estimated time period, and refuses to put the guarantee in writing, is not necessarily inferior. However, a dentist who does stand behind his work is undoubtedly confident of its lasting quality. That is a good sign, though the patient should also understand that much dental work is time-limited. Your dentist should alert you to the life span of the treatment made and what he or she recommends if the work needs to be redone at some later date, as it often does.
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