Certainly, investing in one’s own dental health has many obvious benefits. Good basic dental health is a key part of good overall health. As well, dentistry can prevent or relieve pain while restoring function. Don’t forget the desire for a great smile!
With modern methods of controlling and relieving pain, dentistry does not need to cause serious discomfort. Unfortunately, some think feeling no pain is the primary indicator of good care. On the other hand, if we experience pain with dental work, we may assume we have received substandard dental care.
As with many other complex value judgments, the reality is not that simple. Avoiding pain is part of good dental care, but is not the gold standard. Ideally, everyone deserves a dental experience as pain-free as possible, and today’s dental care providers can usually deliver.
First, a good dentist will want to work with you to prevent as many future problems as possible. That is why the dentistry profession promotes fluoride to help prevent tooth decay. (Various forms of fluoride include toothpaste, oral supplements, and fluoride applied to the teeth in the dental office.) Good dentists also work with you to prevent or manage periodontal (gum) disease. To do this, they encourage brushing teeth, flossing, and perhaps using special mouth rinses.
Regular visits are a basic part of good dental care. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all for a recall schedule. Your dentist and dental hygienist will customize your return visit schedule. They base this on the amount of disease you have experienced, the state of repair of your teeth, and the sophistication of the restorative procedures in your mouth. (A restoration is a tooth filling, inlay, crown, denture or other dental device that recreates lost tooth structure, teeth, or mouth tissue.) Some patients need to be seen every two or three months. Others can do nicely with visits spaced six, nine or 12 months apart.
Your dental office should also be a place where everyone knows your name, and something about you and your family. They should certainly know about your general health and well-being.
Often the dentist is the first person to diagnose a chronic or acute disease. The dentist may find clues that are a tip-off to more serious general health problems. Advise the dentist and hygienist about your medical conditions, and any medications you are taking. If you have invasive surgery, they will measure your blood pressure routinely and check your other vital signs.
As part of your quality dental care, your dentist and dental hygienist look for oral cancer during every check-up. If an area looks suspicious, a small part (biopsy) can be removed that day for examination. An oral smear may also be done, checking cells under a microscope to rule out cancer. Alternatively, you may be immediately sent to a specialist for a biopsy and follow-up care.
The dental office should be clean and tidy. A recent newspaper article advised restaurant patrons to check the cleanliness of the restroom facilities as a good indication of the cleanliness of the kitchen. The staff of most quality practices will be proud and happy to show you the ’kitchen’ of the dental practice, where dental instruments are cleaned and properly sterilized.
The dental chair and unit should be properly cleaned between patients. It is often draped in disposable plastic to help keep it clean.
Staff and the dental professionals should wear masks and proper eye protection. They should insist that you too are protected by appropriate drapes and eyewear. The dentist and all staff should wash their hands between patients and don fresh gloves. Sometimes they may even change gloves during a lengthy procedure.
One mask is not used all day. Quality dentistry means disposing of masks, usually between patients. They should not be worn around the neck like some kind of precious necklace. Some opeating rooms in hospitals require that gloves and masks be changed every hour or so. This helps maintain a sanitary barrier between patient and the health care team.
You should trust your dentist, hygienist and their staff. Delivering quality dental care means caring about each patient, and understanding the differences of each individual. Are you treated like a number in a large ’game’ of musical chairs during a dental visit? This may be a warning that quantity rather than quality is the focus of that particular practice.
Listening is very important. The way that staff listen should help you in deciding if a particular practice is right for you. Dental staff, especially the doctor and hygienist, should take the time to hear your concerns. Treatment should be planned to accommodate your immediate needs. If this isn’t possible, an explanation should be given of when and why a certain procedure needs to be done.
Your dentist and dental hygienist should develop a problem list or statement of your dental concerns that reflects the state of your dental health. You should be given a written list of your diagnosis, and the proposed treatment plan. Each problem should be addressed in the plan, or noted that it can be checked at a specific time. This plan should note what the cost and time commitment will be to complete treatment.
If you are faced with a large treatment plan, get a second opinion from another dentist or dental specialist. For instance, imagine going to your doctor’s office for a routine check-up and having your doctor suggest your appendix be removed, just in case? You would be wise to seek other advice before agreeing. In dentistry, replacing restorations without a specifc reason should raise similar concern on your part. Think of the cost of the second opinion as insurance that the suggested treatment is appropriate for you.
Most ethical dental professionals will not be dismayed by your request to think over the choices quietly and without pressure. There are few problems in dental restorative situations that cannot wait for a week or two before treatment begins.
Be cautious and ask questions. Your dentist and his or her staff should be willing to answer you, perhaps even showing you pictures from similar situations. If the names and telephone numbers of successfully treated patients are available, give those people a call and ask questions.
If you or someone in your family can use the Internet, check out the type of treatment suggested. Look at the sites that are associated with the Canadian Dental Association or the American Dental Association. Some dental sub-specialties also have helpful and accurate websites that are just a few clicks away.
Be wary of anyone who advertises that they are better than others. That type of promotion is discouraged by most dental organizations.
Be alert to treatments guaranteed to last for life. Very little is in this life is guaranteed, except for winter coming to the prairies and taxes owing to Ottawa. The environment in the mouth can break down even the very best dental work. Nothing is forever in terms of dental restorations, and dentists should explain that fact. It is the reason why dentists insist on routine recall visits once you have acquired your new smile. Appropriate recall visits should provide an opportunity to spot possible troubles early. This way, your oral health care can be maintained at the high level that you deserve.
Some wonderful new devices are rapidly changing the way certain dental care is delivered. Lasers, dental implants, and cad-cam devices that can create porcelain restorations for immediate use are just a few. Before agreeing to dental care using a new device, ask your dentist about the training for the particular skill or device. What special education was done? The Internet can be of some value here as well, so do your homework.
Just as important as recall visits is your willingness to do the home care tasks assigned to you by your dentist and hygienist. These may involve brushing, flossing, and changes to your diet. Following the instructions for care at home can mean the difference between long-term success or failure in dental treatment. Long-term success usually depends upon a trusting partnership. Each partner must do his part of the health care bargain.
In spite of the best of intentions, quality care delivery, and your commitment to dental home care, failures do occur in sophisticated dental treatment plans. Still, these cases are rare. Level with your dentist about your expectations before treatment, and know what to expect in return, just in case.
Sometimes patients wonder if dental fees are reasonable and proper. One way of thinking about dental fees is to consider that you are purchasing a new vehicle to transport you on a long-awaited holiday. The trip can be made safely in an economy model vehicle, or in a luxury car, or a truck. The patient can choose the ‘vehicle’ once a basic level of good dental health is achieved. It’s always appropriate to discuss fees and various treatment options with your dentist, especially for procedures not covered by an insurance plan.
If your dentist and hygienist sound like they are selling something by repeating some of what you have just read, they probably are. They are selling the concept of good dental health as a sound investment. Good general health cannot be achieved without good basic oral health.