Finding the right family dentistry practice that can treat everyone, from toddler to grandparent, can seem like a daunting task. While general dentistry makes up the majority of the 140,000+ dental practices across the U.S. and Canada, not every general dental practice is necessarily a family friendly one. Prospective patients must consider the needs of their entire family even before researching dental practices. Once those essentials are determined, it’s time to learn what to look for in a family dentistry practice.
First, the basics. The following points may seem like no-brainers. However, they help ensure your dentist serves you and your family successfully for years to come. After all, you wouldn’t want to have to start this whole search process over again!
Convenient location, hours and scheduling
Going to the dentist can sometimes feel like a chore, so don’t make it even more difficult. The experts at Colgate suggest finding a family dentistry practice that is close to home or work. Another tip:
“Make sure that the dental office is open on the days and at the times when you are able to schedule an appointment.”
This might seem obvious, but not everyone keeps a 9-5 schedule, so why should a dental practice? Make sure their hours work for you and all soccer games, dance recitals and other activities that come with raising a family.
A third tip is to check how the family dentistry practice handles its scheduling. It’s often possible to schedule appointments for several family members for the same time, cutting down on individual office visits.
“Although this is largely up to how individual practices schedule their patients, it’s a good idea to ask up front when searching for a family dental group.”
It never hurts to ask, right?
The family dentistry practice accepts your insurance
Nothing is worse than opening the mail and finding an outstanding bill for dental services that you’re now on the hook for. Head off this financial fiasco before even setting foot in the dentist’s office. Call ahead to ask if the family dentistry practice is accepts your insurance, and make sure you review your coverage thoroughly. If your plans requires referrals for specialized treatments, make sure the dental office can provide them.
Even if you have dental coverage through insurance, keep in mind that you might have to pay a portion of some costs yourself.
“Be aware that costs vary by practice. If you can, get estimates of what your dentist might charge for common procedures such as fillings, crowns or root canal therapy.”
Ask whether or not the dental practice offers multiple payment options, like cash, check, credit card and payment plans in case you do end up paying for treatments not completely covered by insurance.
The group treats patients of all ages with a variety of needs…
A family dentistry practice should include general dentists as well as specialists to make it a one-stop shop to meet most, if not all, of your family’s oral health needs.
“Your general dentist takes responsibility for the diagnosis, treatment and overall coordination of services to meet your oral health needs.”
General dentists also work with specialists to coordinate any specialized dental procedures necessary to ensure the patient’s overall oral health. Every family member will have different dental needs that change over time, so it is crucial to find a home family dentistry practice that ensures treatment easily and efficiently.
As Colgate notes:
“A family dentist that has worked with adults and kids, including very young children, can understand and respond to the diverse needs of you and your children: losing those first teeth, fluoride needs at all ages and even tooth whitening options.”
Think about the dental concerns of every member of the family. Does your teen need braces? Does your spouse suffer from TMJ disorder? Is your elderly mother-in-law in need of dentures? In addition to regular teeth cleanings, a family dentistry practice should offer a variety of services in-house, including:
- Cosmetic procedures
- Crowns and bridges
- Oral surgery
- Root canals
- Tooth whitening
…. And can provide a child-friendly approach
Visiting the dentist can make young children (and even some adults!) uneasy. While a family dentistry practice treats patients of all ages, it doesn’t mean that they take a child-friendly approach when working with very young patients. As the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has noted, a “dental home” should be established for children by the time they reach 12 months old. Look for a group that has at least one pediatric dentist on site – it’s critical that there is a dentist on staff that can handle the needs of a baby!
Furthermore, as additional experts point out,
“Children want (and need) a dentist and dental hygienist who are gentle, patient and accustomed to working with kids. Video games in the waiting room and toy prizes after the appointment are great, but kindness is what will help a child feel comfortable and encouraged.”
A good rapport between young kids and their dentists is important for establishing good oral hygiene habits that last a lifetime. The Crown Council notes that starting visits to a family dentistry practice at a young age – especially to a dentist children feel comfortable with – is “not only important for you child’s oral health, but it also helps them build patterns of proper tooth care.”
The practice offers after-hours and emergency care
Despite your best efforts to prevent emergencies, life happens – and sometimes that’s the time when your family needs dental care the most. Whether it’s a puck to the mouth during an intense hockey game, or a weekend toothache that just can’t wait, a dentist that refers you to the emergency room does no good. Instead, make sure the family dentistry practice you choose offers contingency plans in case of an emergency.
“Find out what happens if you have an emergency, either during normal office hours, or at night or on a weekend… You should be able to contact your dentist (or a suitable substitute) at any time by calling an answering service, cell phone or pager.”
Remember that emergencies are never planned, so don’t feel like a pest when enquiring about after-hours care. If anyone at the dentist’s office makes you feel that way – well, it’s time to find another family dentistry practice.
Responsive family dentistry staff and open communication
Now that we have the basics out of the way, we can dig into the core qualities that you should look for in a family dentistry practice.
It is important that you and every member of your family feel at ease when visiting your family dentistry practice. This is not only necessary when you’re in the dentist’s chair, but also when calling to make an appointment, sitting in the waiting room and handling billing inquiries and issues.
Before committing to a family dentistry practice, pay the office a visit and dial into the mood set by the staff. If it seems unpleasant and communication feels closed off, head to the next group on your list.
As the writers at MediaPlanet: The Future of Health note,
“A visit to the dentist is not high on most people’s list of favorite activities. While you can’t necessarily determine the treatment you’ll need in advance, you can determine the quality of the staff experience by choosing an office offering a streamlined appointment process, pleasant interaction and a billing process that accepts most insurance plans.”
A modern office and up-to-date technology
Much like a restaurant restroom acts as an indicator of kitchen cleanliness, a dentist’s office and waiting room provides information. For example,
“If the surroundings are clean and modern, and the magazines current, chances are good the same can be said for the equipment and care.”
Also, the past quarter century enabled a “proliferation of digital technologies that dramatically improve the quality of care.” Make sure your family dentistry practice takes advantage of technical advances.
For instance, traditional dental X-rays. While crucial to detecting and diagnosing major oral health issues, X-rays emit radiation, which can contribute to oral cancer.
The experts at 1-800-Dentist understand patients’ concerns about dental X-rays, but explain the progress made in X-ray technology.
“Some patients put off dental X-rays for various reasons, including wait time for film and environmental concerns. Every effort is made to ensure dental X-rays are safe, patients are protected from exposure, and it doesn’t emit much radiation. Dentists are addressing these issues with digital radiography, a high-tech replacement for traditional X-rays. “
Modern digital X-ray technology not only drastically reduces exposure to radiation, it is environmentally friendly (no chemicals required to develop film), produces high quality images, makes for easy transfer of dental records via email and can lead to shorter dental appointments since there is no need to wait for X-ray film to develop!
Advances in technology also make a visit to the dentist more tolerable for children and nervous adults. In addition to digital radiography, new tools are less invasive than methods of the past. For example, intraoral cameras allow dentists to magnify potential problem areas on a monitor.
Experienced, qualified family dentistry staff members
Whether or not the staff at any family dentistry practice should factor hugely into your decision. Take the time to interview your potential dentist and specialists. Treat the interview like hiring a candidate for a job position. There are no silly questions when it comes to choosing the best practitioner to take care of your oral health!
For starters, ask how long the dentist has been practicing and which procedures are most often performed in that office. You should also learn the dentist’s level of training and education.
“While all dentists are required to go to dental school to become licensed, several programs and continuing education classes are available for additional training in specific dental techniques. Find out whether your family dentist is committed to staying up to date on the latest advancements in dental care. You might also ask whether your family dentist is a member of any professional dental organizations.”
Ongoing education and training is critical for dental office staff and practitioners to pursue.
MediaPlanet:The Future of Health notes that over the past decade, “advances in clinical and administrative technology mean dentists and their staffs need to regularly update their skills to meet the needs and expectations of the industry and their patients.”
Unsure of how to determine whether or not your dentist is qualified? Most states have websites that allow prospective patients to verify the dentist is licensed. The office staff should also be able to answer questions about the dentist’s training. Plus, they provide other pertinent information, like how the practice handles infection control.
A good reputation
Reputation matters. A family dentistry practice with decades of experience could hold all the honors in the dental world. But, it doesn’t matter if it has a bad rap. No one wants a dentist with poor chairside manner. Visiting the dentist’s office can be hard enough without a grump practitioner drilling away at your teeth!
“One of the first things to do is to search online reviews to see what positive or negative experiences patients have had at their dentist.”
Use friends and family as resources to aid in your search for the perfect family dentistry practice. As noted by Angie’s List:
“Ask your friends and neighbors where they go for dental work. There is no better way to find a great dentist than to find out who your friends and neighbors trust. Most people will not recommend bad service to you or advise you to see a dentist they are not pleased with.”
Let’s hope we can trust our peers to not recommend a dentist they aren’t happy with!
Practitioners who see the whole picture – not just your teeth
Oral hygiene means more than just brushing and flossing, and good family dentistry personnel understand that. Dr. Roger Lucas, a dentist known as “The Dentist Dad”, explains how a balanced diet is critical for oral health, especially in kids.
Snacks loaded with simple carbohydrates that we often give to young children, “like dry crackers, and dried fruit, convert to lactic acid, which wears away tooth enamel and causes cavities,” according to Dr. Lucas.
Protein, fat and fiber, on the hand, do not cause cavities. Of course, we can’t eliminate carbohydrates from a child’s diet. But, we can limit the exposure to these simple carbs:
“If you floss your child’s teeth twice a day but let him drink chocolate milk all day long, your child will still get cavities. How your child eats is as important as what your child eats.
Think of it like this: carb-rich foods + time on teeth = cavities.”
“Adding some beneficial foods to your dental care routine can boost your oral health and help you maintain that beautiful smile.”
Mak writes that cheese, apples, sesame oil, broccoli and sugar-free gum are dentist-approved foods to incorporate into your diet.
Dentists you can truly trust
The final quality to look for in a family dentistry practice has perhaps the greatest impact. Trusting your dentist is critical to the health of your mouth and teeth, but also to your overall wellbeing. Frequently, dentists are the first practitioners to identify major health issues because many diseases appear as symptoms in the mouth. Thus, you need a family dentistry practice with caring individuals. Trustworthy staff members can alert you and your family members about any potential illness.
Dr. Andrew Swiatowicz, a dentist known for his work with special needs patients, writes,
“Plenty of medical conditions — including some alarming ones! — manifest in the mouth, which is the part of your body your dentist knows the most about. In fact, it’s possible that your dentist is able to alert you of a potentially serious condition long before you even think about going to a primary care doctor.”
Illnesses that can present symptoms in the mouth, according to Dr. Swiatowicz, include:
- Acromegaly, a pituitary gland disorder
- Osteoporosis Imperfecta, a bone disease
- Crohn’s disease, an illness that affects the gastrointestinal tract
- Sleep apnea
The folks at Women’s Health make the case for other conditions that dentists can suspect just by looking inside your mouth. They know the difference between a sinus infection and a toothache. Both hurt – a lot – but only one might lead to a root canal). Plus, dentists know if a patient has a vitamin deficiency or even, possibly, diabetes.
Dentists are, of course, also on high alert for signs of oral cancer. Other illnesses that present symptoms in the mouth include rheumatoid arthritis, acid reflux, cancer and heart disease, according to Men’s Health.
Learning that you may exhibit symptoms of these serious illnesses can come as a shock. This is why it is critical your family establishes a good rapport with the staff.
With these qualities in mind, we hope you find a family dentistry practice that fits the bill.
At Columbia Dental, all of our locations across Connecticut provide complete oral care for the entire family. We offer convenient hours, so you can receive proper dental care on your time. Call us at 860-645-0111 or visit our website today to learn more.