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What is a Good Dentist?

I have a fair number of patients who are getting on in years. As you might expect, some of them have a degree of memory impairment. So today, I got asked this curious question from a gal in her 80’s:

“One of my friends asked me if you were a good dentist.”

I smiled and asked her what she thought.Thankfully, she said, “Yes!”

But this got me thinking, “Now that I’ve been practicing for over 30 years, what makes a good dentist?” Who would I go to? Who would I avoid and why?

We dentists comprise a very close community and yet only rarely do we spend any significant amount of time in each others offices. However, we talk a lot. You often get to hear some really interesting viewpoints (and a few extreme ones) from you colleagues over lunch and this gives you insight into their character and practice.

What Makes a Good Dentist? Or Physician?

  • A good dentist should listen to you. Your past history is all-important to your future dental success.
  • A good dentist should be a little OCD and attentive to detail. If a dentist tells you he has to redo a procedure, that’s not a bad thing; it shows that they take pride in their work and they want it to be as good as it can be. If a dentist takes a long time to do a procedure, it likely means they are attentive to detail.              (Sidenote here: beware of speed demons and cowboys)
  • A good dentist should regularly attend continuing education courses. There are several accrediting organizations that require this, but the largest one is the Academy of General Dentistry (NOTE: this is not an ADA requirement, nor does the ADA accredit dentists). In Connecticut, continuing education is compulsory for dentists.
  • A good dentist should respect your wishes. If you ever feel bullied into a decision or are not provided with alternatives, get a second opinion!
  • If the dentist is ‘dissing’ your previous dentist, I would be wary. There are cases where prior dental treatment was poorly done, but for the most part, dentistry in this part of the world is performed at a fairly high level.
  • The dentist should educate but not dictate. You should be making choices based on your evaluation of the facts that have been presented to you. The dentist is there to guide you to the best treatment, but ultimately, it is your choice.
  • This last one may strike you as a bit odd, but in many ways is most important: a good dentist should be using some sort of magnification and possibly a headlight. That’s the level of detail that we are dealing with – micro level.

What About the High Tech Dental Office?

The latest and greatest technology does not necessarily make a good dentist. Many of these gadgets have a lifespan of only about five years. I went to a seminar several months ago where the presenting doctor was bragging about the size of his office and all of the latest technology he had. But it was plainly obvious that he still used a novocaine needle and a dental drill. I don’t care how advanced your technology is, it still comes down to that, doesn’t it?

This fellow bragged about how many new patients that he was seeing per month (which implies a lot of them only came in once and never returned) and how much money he made. The bottom line was this doctor saw himself as a salesman first. It was always about the sale and not about the patient. If you feel that you are being “sold”, you most likely are. If the office provides a lot of add-ons without your consent, it is likely that you have been “sold”.

Bottom Line: What Makes a Good Dentist?

Ultimately, a good dentist should treat you as if you were a member of the family and provide a level of treatment that is on a par with what they would have done on themselves.

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