Practice location and hours of operation
With the high price of gas and the value of your time, location becomes a priority. If possible, focus on dentists who are within practical proximity to either your home or where you work. Also, be sure to look into their business hours to determine if they might coincide with your personal schedule.
A smaller, 'mom and pop' type of operation will more likely keep 'banker's hours' and be closed for lunch, while the larger practices tend to extend their hours of operation into Saturdays, lunch hours and sometimes even into the early evenings on certain weekdays. Dental care is pricey so if you can schedule your visits during your off hours at least you won't be drawing a smaller paycheck that week as well.
Schedule an initial consultation
Look at it this way - you're hiring a dentist to work for you which could result in paying them hundreds if not thousands of dollars for dental care over the next several years. Once you've narrowed your choices down to just 2 or 3, go ahead and schedule consultations (or job interviews) with them. This will be time well spent prior to developing such a close, 'face-to-face' relationship with one of them.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), we should have regular dental checkups at least twice a year with a strong emphasis on preventative care. You can save a lot of pain, headache and money by simply focusing on good oral care and hygiene and keeping your teeth and gums healthy. Therefore, it's imperative that your dentist follows the same philosophy.
Your initial visit is also the perfect time to check out the facilities and staff. You can meet the hygienist(s) and dental assistant(s) and see that they meet your expectations. Feel free to ask any questions including how long they've been in business, where the dentist(s) may have attended school, if they also offer cosmetic services and if they are members of the ADA - a leading advocate for oral health care in America.
Dental cost and coverage
It may be a good idea to pick up a price list during your visit. (They should be able to easily print one out from their computer.) This may not be too much of a concern if you have good health coverage, but it's still helpful information to have and may be interesting to compare with the other contenders. And speaking of health coverage, find out what kind of insurance they accept and, if applicable, if yours is on the list. Also, what is their procedure for filing claims? Do they do this on your behalf or would you have to pay up front and file your own insurance claim for reimbursement?
In addition to insurance, ask if they accept any kind of dental discount programs. Half of Americans are without dental insurance, mainly due to the higher cost, but more and more are signing up for discount plans to help cope with the costs of dental care (some even have both since insurance coverage has become so limited over the last 20-30 years).
Two more helpful considerations
A good way to locate a great dentist is by personal referrals. Since most people have a regular dentist, simply ask around. Try your friends, relatives, neighbors, church friends and other places you frequent. If new to town, you can always ask good old Google - you can learn just about anything nowadays via an online search.
Finally, you may wish to ask about the practice's emergency procedures. Hopefully, you'll never need them but you never know what could happen after hours such as a broken tooth or severe oral pain over a weekend or in the middle of the night. Do they have dentists on staff that take emergency calls? Do they share on-call rotations with another practice? This is good information to have on hand, just in case.
Visiting the dentist is not the most desirable activity for most folks, but it's still a very important one. Our oral and overall health depend on it. So choose a dentist who you and your family will feel comfortable with - and keep that beautiful smile healthy.