Choosing a Dentist
Find a practice that treats you as more than just another mouth
Choosing a dentist for you and your family can be a daunting task. We’re here to show you what to look for and help break it down into, ahem, bite-sized pieces.
“From the first phone call all the way to the back office, the dentist and staff should be friendly, really listen and answer your questions,” says dentist Dr. Rita Frazier, with offices in Ward’s Corner in Norfolk and Town Center in Virginia Beach. “How someone answers the phone in my office is a reflection on me, the dentist.”
Ask the dentist how long his or her staff has been with the practice, Frazier says. Staff members who stay with the practice mean that hygienists and others will get to know your mouth, your needs and you as a person.
“A high turnover rate is not good,” she says. “I have an awesome manager who has been with me 26 years. I have other staff members who have been with me 10 years, 17 years. I surround myself with talented staff. Those years and years of experience make for everything being smooth.”
Another key factor is how the dentist views overall health—you’re not just a mouth. “Medical health and dental health are proven to coincide,” Frazier says. “Poor periodontal health correlates with diabetes, heart disease, stroke and low birth weight babies.”
Frazier sees herself as a partner with the patient’s physician. “We talk to their doctor before prescribing medicine, lab tests, before having anything done,” she says.
If you think you need implants or other extensive treatments, consider whether the dentist offers those treatments, Frazier says. But make sure if the dentist is doing implants or other major work, that he or she is fully qualified and experienced in those procedures, she says.
Speaking of major work, if the dentist pushes major dental work before determining your overall needs, that’s a red flag, Frazier says. The dentist should assess your overall dental health and get your mouth cleaned up and cavity free before considering bridges, implants, braces or cosmetic work, she says.
“We do things in a logical orderly sequence—chief complaints, active decay, cavities and then the last thing is major work,” she says.
Ask the dentist if he or she invests in technology and the education required to master that technology, says Dr. Lisa Marie Samaha of Port Warwick Dental Arts in Newport News.
Digital X rays are good because they allow the dentist and patients to see a lot more and result in less radiation, Frazier says. “Patients can see the decay while they’re in the office,” she says.
Another key piece of technology is an intraoral camera so you can view your teeth at the level of a surgical microscope, Samaha says. This camera helps you, the patient, assess your own health, she says.
“Seeing is believing,” Samaha says. “We don’t have to convince the patient and they don’t have to trust that what we are saying is indeed fact or whether we have any ulterior motive for recommending treatment.
Usually, when patients see a problem, they want to know how fast we can treat it.” Another key piece of equipment is a soft tissue laser for the treatment of periodontal disease, Samaha says. A soft tissue laser has allowed Samaha, the founder of an internationally recognized teaching institute, to perform 90 percent less traditional periodontal surgery than in the past, she says.
If surroundings are important to you, take a look around the office too. “I don’t like dark, dreary offices,” Frazier says. “Soothing surroundings make you feel more comfortable and relaxed.”
And remember, you’re a partner in your dental care. “If you floss, you add 10 years onto your life,” Frazier says.